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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Critical Thinking

This week is national Banned Book Week, sponsored by the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association, among others.

I didn’t actually know this until, after a convoluted, forgotten series of onward clicking, I found Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog. You may remember the name from a review I did a few months ago of her novel Speak.

Apparently, an associate professor of management at Missouri State University named Wesley Scroggins is trying to get Speak taken out of schools. He feels the (briefly noted) representation of the sex lives of high schoolers and the two rape scenes classify the book as soft-core porn.

Ironically, the point of the book is to encourage readers to find their voice, to use their right to speak to defend themselves and fight injustice.

I’m trying really, really hard, here, to rein myself in and not go off on a ten-page diatribe. I’m from Oregon where I joke that people will euthanize their elderly relatives before they’ll burn a book. Book-banning hasn’t been a big part of my life. My ma didn’t let me read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, and held off on the steamier Anne McC’s until I was older. (Meanwhile, she was trading Marion Zimmer Bradley and Jean Auel novels with my grandfather.)

So I don’t have the visceral reaction some people have when they hear about book banning. What sends me through the roof is people not properly educating their kids.

Popular culture has a long, respected tradition of teaching as it entertains, be it Aesop’s fables or Blue’s Clues. Good literature reveals something about the human condition, brings it out into the open where readers can examine it and make judgment calls. Good YA literature (and Speak is among the best) does that in the context of the young adult world—in large part as a supplement to parenting. Even the best, most thorough parent is going to miss something (whether by lack of total immersion in their kids’ world or just by dint of the sheer mass of information) that can be filled by good books. And movies. Probably not so much video games.

And it is very often the very parents who rail against libraries who prepare their kids for adulthood the least. Every child, every situation is different. But the world is the world, and hiding kids from it isn't doing them any favors. (Whew! I made it without going off the deep end! Or once mentioning the Quiverful Movement—oops.)

As most of you know, we got to live in Hawaii for three glorious years. “Caucasian” is the second largest ethnicity in the islands. Japanese is the first. And that doesn’t count the tourists. One of the biggest spots for Japanese tourists to visit is the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Word was that many of them didn’t know what it was for. They didn’t know about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Their government was defeated, so, in disgrace, they took that bit out of public education.

I know what it’s like to grow up having very few adults explain things to you. Books have the potential to fill that gap. Banning them isn’t going to take away the issues they address. It’s just going to leave fewer people who know what to do about those issues.

Various and sundry links:

American Library Association
An interesting map
About.com article
Wow. There's even a handbook.

Kersley Fitzgerald has not so much "banned" books in her house as simply refused to read an excess of Thomas the Tank Engine. In fact, it is the Creature who has decided he's not ready to read The Chamber of Secrets. Maj Tom is not pleased. The Creature is not allowed to watch an HP movie until he's finished the book, and we're getting awfully sick of The Sorcerer's Stone.
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