In the Washington Post of May 3, 2022:
Teens fight for the right to read with ‘banned-book clubs’ and lawsuits
By Hannah Natanson
If you don’t get past the paywall at WaPo the gist of the article is that at a public high school in Austin,Texas (Leander School District) some of the students are working to get to read these books in spite of the school ban.
I think it was back 20-25 years ago when Banned Book Week first came to my attention. Or maybe it was 30 years. It was started in 1982 by the American Library Association and I supported it generally, but imho it was nonsense. Yes. My problem was with the meaning of the word “banned.” I knew Ulysses had been banned but that was lifted in 1933 or so. Ulysses was banned as being” a novel which… might cause American readers to harbor “impure and lustful thoughts.” But the ban was lifted. So in today’s world, what does “banned” mean? These are the books which were/are banned by the US government:
Considering the problems in US schools and some fresh thinking, I’ve kind of changed my mind. But this country has changed too. In my days as a teacher (1987-2011) a few books were “banned” or challenged for being socialist or communist but that was it (that I knew of).
And I think I may have read a few books in my Kindergarten classroom which were or had been banned somewhere. Leo Lionni was said to be a communist – well no – but he was close. I read lots and lots of his books – no one EVER complained.
https://tinyurl.com/34w5psue (Publisher’s Weekly)
I was taking the term “banned” to mean by the government or something. The Post Office used to be big on this and the military still does it but that might be a different story. So the “banned book list” included To Kill A Mockingbird and Grapes of Wrath and so on. Who cares? I should read them now, in 1998, and get some kind of vicarious thrill out of thinking I’m being brave or liberal or whatever – avant garde? LOL!
At that point I didn’t count schools in my thinking because the kids or their parents could still get the books in lots and lots of places. These books weren’t “banned” in any sense of the term with which I was familiar, especially not after the advent of the internet. The old sales heading of “Banned in Boston” just didn’t cut it anymore. (I know – I’m showing my early Boomer-ness.)
** Fwiw, I banned “All In the Family” in my home – my kids at ages 4 and 6 were not old enough to have a clue what satire was about. I could just see them calling their little friends at school and in the neighborhood (a very inclusive area in San Jose) “jungle bunny” or something – I mean – it gets a laugh on TV. In fact, I did overhear one child calling another child “black” whereupon my daughter said, “He’s not black, he’s polka-dot!” And I thought to myself that I was probably doing a fair job. 🙂 **
Now? I think this school text banning has gone a bit too far, but otoh, if parents want these books for their kids I strongly encourage them to go get them – they’re right there at Amazon – probably every single one of them and more. Maybe even at the public library, who knows? Because the American Library certainly supports freedom to read. (You know this is the 1st amendment.) And just as a “note from teacher,” it would be super-helpful if parents read and discussed stuff with their kids anyway (all ages!)
*When I was in school there were no Nancy Drew books in the school library. I was annoyed but my mom thought this “omission” was a good idea because Nancy Drew was not literature. So I never got Nancy Drew as a gift, or any book for that matter – not as long as there was a public library in town. But, yay, the public library had them and my mom didn’t interfere with what I actually read. If I could get my hands on it I could read it. LOL!
*When I was in school there were no Nancy Drew books in the school library. I was annoyed but my mom thought this “omission” (not “banning”!) was a good idea because Nancy Drew was “not literature.” I never received a Nancy Drew book as a gift, or any book for that matter, not as long as there was a public library in town.
But, yay, the public library had them and my mom didn’t interfere with what I actually read. If I could get my hands on it I could read it. LOL!
“Although the books outperformed any other long-running literature series, they were banned by librarians and educators throughout the United States for “debauching and vitiating” a child’s imagination. Considering the public’s overall admiration for and enjoyment of the mystery stories, perhaps the bad reviews may also be contributed to Stratemeyer’s cutting edge creation of a brave female detective.”
At this point I do NOT approve of some self-selected bunch of right-wing probably Christian idiots storming the school board meeting and screaming at them and forcing the issue their way. The school board members are simply grabbing books as named, not as they’ve read! I hope the general public sorts this one out at the polls.
And what did my precious innocent little students see on the playground before and after school? A couple of moms holding hands and bringing the kid to school – maybe having a bit of a kiss between the adults as they waited. But none of the kiddos ever asked even one single question. (I would have said, “That’s a family question – you need to ask your family.”).
I’m wondering if some sex-police are going to be hired by the school district to keep propriety on the campuses. And I wonder about the head of ??? who was transexual. He changed from man to woman, back to man and then again to woman! We were advised early on NEVER to mention it in his presence – I think the powers-that-be feared the omnipresent lawsuit.
My point is that this is REAL LIFE, folks. Situations like this might never have even been thought of, much less occurred, back in the 1950s where you were growing up in those simpler times, but it certainly does today – “right here in River City.” (I lived in a small town in California, population 50,000.)
Sorry for the length of this. No, I don’t entirely trust teachers who seduce their 15-year old students. But I do trust the American Library Association and the school can go by that or the state curriculum or some other approved source.
Right now, thanks to ebooks and subscriptions to services, schools are being supplied by huge networks of educational book suppliers and it’s kind of crazy to check ALL the books in the suppliers’ catalogues and/or for the supplier to manage their requests. LOL! Imagine some supplier dealing with both the Berkeley school district and a rural Iowa school district – or some rural school district in Michigan and a liberal school district in Texas (like Plano Texas). – (Not meaning to put geography in on this.)
Well, I had a good chuckle at myself over this, because I love ticking off all the books I’ve read on those lists!
But seriously, I do think there’s a broader issue here. When school or library boards ban books or librarians quietly remove them rather than have a fight over it, that means that children who come from families with closed minds are not going to encounter those books anywhere. They grow up without ever having their parents’ intolerant ideas being challenged, and that spreads callous attitudes that have no place in the modern world. Perhaps it’s a long bow to draw a link between compromised access to books and ideas for young people, and what is happening in the US with a powerful Religious Right at war with democratic liberties, but when I read articles like this one, I look for reasons why things have got so out of hand: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jun/26/second-civil-war-us-abortion
I totally agree. I was talking about this today with my daughter who is also a teacher. My granddaughter’s history teacher shows them on the map where Ukraine is. He deals with what’s in the news and he’s really, really good. School should not be stuck in the 1950s – in many ways. But people here are so afraid of the state taking over their children (and everything else) it becomes “Whose child is it?” I think they should put the kids in private school if they feel that way – or homeschool them. And a LOT of people are doing that these days. It’s very sad and quite scary.