Monday, December 6, 2010

Let's Set Things Straight...

Due to recent feedback about my blog, today will focus more on the concepts of censorship and book challenges rather than on one specific instance.  The purpose of this blog is not to argue the existence of censorship or book banning, but to act under the assumption that these acts occur and so bring to light current instances of censorship.  There is some indecision that keeps surfacing surrounding parenting vs. censorship.  I believe (and therefore this blog acts under the assumption that) parenting can involve acts of censorship for the purposes of child protection. 

I have no problem with parents taking an interest in what their children are reading, and therefore, at times, deciding that something is inappropriate for their own child.  What I find reprehensible is the decision of some parents to take their own views and attempt to spread them over entire schools or school districts.  This sort of behavior expands parental rights into a form of attempted dictatorship.  Strong words, perhaps, but true nonetheless.

I would also like to point out that while I have links to certain larger organizations in the sidebar of this site, that does not mean that I believe any of them are the be-all or end-all of censorship authority.  Each organization does valuable work and therefore deserves to be heard, but this does not endorse any group as the final word on the subject.  With that in mind, I would like to turn to the 2009-2010 list of banned and challenged books by Robert P. Doyle.  This is a resource put out by the ALA, but also endorsed by a multitude of other organizations.  The foreword contains some valuable information and defines censorship and challenges in a particularly enlightening and simple way.  So without further adieu, I end today's entry with these words:

Sex, profanity, and racism remain the primary categories of objections, and most occur in schools and school libraries. Frequently, challenges are motivated by the desire to protect children. While the intent is commendable, this method of protection contains hazards far greater than exposure to the “evil” against which it is leveled. U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, in Texas v. Johnson, said, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Individuals may restrict what they themselves or their children read, but they must not call on governmental or public agencies to prevent others from reading or seeing that material.

The challenges documented in this list are not brought by people merely expressing a point of view; rather, they represent requests to remove materials from schools or libraries, thus restricting access to them by others. Even when the eventual outcome allows the book to stay on the library shelves and even when the person is a lone protester, the censorship attempt is real. Someone has tried to restrict another person’s ability to choose. Challenges are as important to document as actual bannings, in which a book is removed from the shelves of a library or bookstore or from the curriculum at a school. Attempts to censor can lead to voluntary restriction of expression by those who seek to avoid controversy; in these cases, material may not be published at all or may not be purchased by a bookstore, library, or school district.


  1. I can't think of a single time I've directed either of my children away from a book to protect them. I do that though with films (to some degree) and video games (to some degree). But with reading I tell my oldest who is reading more and more on his own that if he finds something he doesn't like he can skip that passage or decide to stop reading the book.

  2. pussreboots: I haven't, either, but my parents certainly did. Sometimes they made the right choice; sometimes I read it anyhow; sometimes I wished I hadn't; sometimes I was angry for their interference when I finally got around to reading the text after leaving home (A Clockwork Orange, for example). I have suggested certain books (as well as films) might not be the best for my boy, but with the suggestion came the explicit rationale underlying the opinion. And it is presented as an opinion: my son then chooses--or not--to follow my advice. Like you, I trust that he is able to make his own decisions about what he is emotionally able or willing to handle.

    But do you think, sometimes, that some kids (like the younger me...) won't be able to put the book down or stop reading, even if it is not the best idea to go on? This is where Rob's comment on parenting vs censorship comes in: we, as parents, have to (get to?) make those decisions for our children as individual readers: whether to remove the book, whether to introduce it into the home at all, how we want to present sensitive texts... I have even suggested to friends that they think twice about letting their kids read some books at a particular age. But the decision is up to us as parents. The librarians at my children's schools both know that my children have permission to read anything the library holds, despite the "permission only" shelves.

  3. But what I really meant to say is, "well done ROb" for making this point clear, via the ALA.

    "Individuals may restrict what they themselves or their children read, but they must not call on governmental or public agencies to prevent others from reading or seeing that material."

  4. My parents didn't object to what I read except for one book. When my father objected, I was both shocked and amused. I was a senior in high school and I had gotten the book from my school library. I told him I was going to read the book anyway and that was it.