After my co-worker uttered those words, I stared at her in such stupefaction that she added, as if to clarify: “I think parents should decide what their kids can read.”
But they shouldn’t decide what MY kid can read, is what I should have said.
At the time, however, I sat dumbstruck. No one had ever spoken out in support of BOOK BANNING to me before, so I was unprepared with a response.
As a reader and an author, I’m appalled when parents seek to have books removed from libraries and authors of controversial books silenced … to “protect” children. Usually, it’s one parent, or a small disgruntled faction, who want to impose their beliefs on everyone.
And let me tell you:
I DO NOT LIKE OTHER PEOPLE TELLING ME WHAT TO DO.
I am perfectly capable of using my own good brain to sift through sources of information and reach my own conclusions, thank you very much.
For fifteen minutes now, since I wrote that last sentence, I’ve been sitting here trying to analyze the reasons why a parent would wish to ban a book or protest a speaker. But I keep deleting everything I write, because it’s such a frustrating and incomprehensible mind-set, and I can’t explain what I don’t understand.
It’s a narrow world-view.
It’s “I know better than you.”
Here’s an example:
“That book should be removed from the library. The subject of teen pregnancy isn’t appropriate for middle schoolers.”
With the permission of author Jo Knowles, I’m going to paste an excerpt from an email she received from a teacher in an inner city school:
We chatted briefly at the Simmons Children's Literature Alum event this past January and I shared with you how incredibly popular JUMPING OFF SWINGS is with students at my inner-city school in Washington DC. It might jog your memory to remind you that I told you we'd had 4 pregnant 7th graders last year.”
Shocking, yes? Not just one pregnant seventh grader but four in one class.
Jo’s book spoke to those girls, and many others in the class. The complete blog post about the above email, and a related conversation Jo had with an indignant parent, is here. Jo is one of the bravest and most thoughtful writers I know, and her books are life-lines to many teens, I am sure. I am also sure that many parents would like to keep them out of teens' hands. Her first book, LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL, has officially been challenged in Kentucky. You can read the details here.
Here’s another example of censorship:
“Ellen Hopkins should not appear at the Humble, Texas Teen Lit Festival because her books are about sad and scary topics – meth addiction, prostitution, abuse, suicide – and it might be upsetting for some teens.”
This controversy has now been thoroughly discussed in the blogosphere, so I won’t go into detail about it. If you haven’t heard about Ellen being uninvited from the book festival, you can read an article about it in Publishers Weekly here.
I especially like this comment at the end of the article:
August 18, 2010 at 6:44 pm
Just thought I’d mention that Ellen had been at the Humble Lit Fest twice before without inciting any teen pregnancies, suicides, meth addictions, or protests of the material in her books. She had been invited since last May without anyone protesting until this week.”
Teens are YOUNG ADULTS. I think it’s hard for some parents to accept that, because of the primal parental desire to protect one’s child from sad or scary things. But knowledge is power, and our children deserve the right to read widely, think deeply, and come to their own conclusions about difficult situations.
For parents who simply cannot loosen the tight grip of protection, I say, “That’s fine. You know your child best. But one day they'll be adults, and they'll need tools for coping."
And DO NOT tell the rest of us what our kids can read or whose voice they can hear.