Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Banned Books Week: Why?

"Censorship ends in the logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that no one reads."  -  George Bernard Shaw 

At this point we are four days into Banned Books Week. Or three posts, if you’re following it primarily via Bad Shakespeare. In which case I thank you, and I feel you deserve a reward... feel free to go eat some ice cream today, on me. You deserve it.
Today I want to tackle a topic that I’m sure is on everyone’s mind as we talk about, celebrate, and point out things about Banned Books, mostly: why? Why have a week celebrating them? Why worry about books that are banned? After all, we’re not talking about a nationwide ban on these books. Because one school says “you can read it” there are still other opportunities to check it out. Kids could seek out the books. Kids have the ability to find the books via other means. While there are nationwide laws on standards of teaching, there are no nationwide laws on which books can be read. So... why do we care?

Because cutting off access to literature is never a good thing. For any reason. Most of the time Book Banning is a knee jerk reaction to themes, words, or (in some cases) disapproval of the personal life of the writer. When something is removed from a classroom or a library, it sends a dangerous message to kids, teachers, and the book banners. 

To the kids it sends a message that something in the book was “wrong.” The problem is, what is “Wrong?” Oh, there are clear cut cases of things that are wrong: murder, stealing, not liking Firefly... But some of it comes down to personal values. As I talked about yesterday: is swearing wrong? What’s swearing? While researching this, I found that some people consider “Hell” a bad word, depending on the context, yet you can still see it all over the place. Is “Fuck”?

There are other values that I dance around supporting sometimes. What about Homosexuality? Some people consider that wrong? I personally don’t, but one of the books I was looking at was banned for presenting “Homosexuality as normal”. (Their words were a lot harsher. I won’t repeat it.) I think that whether you feel sexuality is a choice or not, it’s no one’s damn business who you love. (Unless it’s Anne Hathaway... she’s mine.) But it goes deeper than that, because if you’re fighting to have a book banned for “homosexuality” (the characters. Books are inanimate objects and can rarely be attracted to each other. Except for Neverwhere. I think it stalked me for a little while.)  So, you’re telling your kid that homosexuality is wrong, and worse you aren’t even willing to talk about it with them. It’s the same with anything.

I remember getting into a rather... let’s say “heated” discussion with a former classmate over Ellen Hopkins’ Crank. While Crank wasn’t the happiest of books to read, I had to admit it dealt with a lot of subjects I felt would be relevant to the age group I was pretending to teach at the time: eating disorders, first love, going “all the way” (do kids still use that phrase? Kids, ask your parents. Parents, enjoy that conversation), and a lot of other heavy subjects. The classmate took the idea that they would NEVER EVER TEACH THIS BOOK because of all those subjects. Kids shouldn’t know about those things! How dare someone market this as young adult! My point was this: If you teach kids that these subjects are “wrong” by simply not talking about it, when they do encounter these problems, they’re less likely to talk to anyone about it. They’ll turn to a lot of other places to learn these things, then guess what they don’t learn... any values you want to instill in them. They just learn they can’t talk about it with you.

Banning Books sends a terrible message to teachers. Some of this blog has been my journey towards teacherdom. Or Teacherness. I don’t know, word isn’t recognizing either of those words. Shakespeare invented plenty of words, just think of me like him. Anyway, so I am working hard to become a teacher. Eventually I may even become one to someone other than my cats. But I have created lesson plans. And I like to use a wide variety of literature, including banned books. Once those resources are eventually taken away, what do you think happens to that teacher? Some find other ones. And then they’ll find more when those other ones are banned. This will continue until the teacher eventually burns out. Then you lose good teachers because they don’t have the tools they need to teach. They’re reading the one Dr. Seuss Book that is “ok” to read in class until someone finds out that it’s actually an allegory for treating everyone fairly, then that will probably get pulled to. After all, “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”  (I use this line because it’s been co-opted by a group that doesn’t realize that it has nothing to do with their group; it’s about treating everyone with respect.)

Lastly, successful book bans send a horrible message to the Book Banners. And that message is this: We’ll put up with it. I mentioned at the start of this week to not be too hard on the Book Banners; after all they believe that they have a justification for banning the book. It’s the Lex Luthor Paradox. Lex believes that what he’s doing is right because there’s a freaking alien with Superpowers running around his city. He’s just rich enough to do something about it. (So is Bruce Wayne, but he’s too busy building bat shaped airplanes, and working with the alien menace) Book Banners to believe what they’re doing is right, but like Lex Luthor, they’re not necessarily right.

It’s what takes us down that slippery slope. Hey, it’s just The Hunger Games, in addition to being violent it’s just pop culture garbage (according to that hippy that worked at the bookstore, anyway). Right? No one is missing anything. Oh, and Speak has to go, but it’s not a “classic” so that’s not a problem. But while we’re at it, let’s  also ban The Diary of Anne Frank because of some of the themes. While we’re at it, why not change around some of the bad language.... language specifically chosen by Mark Twain to make a point... in Huckleberry Finn.  Let’s ban most of Toni Morrison’s work by calling it Pornography. You ban one book, for any reason, you lay the groundwork to ban them ALL. And trust me, there are people who will find a reason to ban a book, for any reason. 

So, why should we care that any access to books is being cut off? Because allowing it sends a terrible message to everyone. 

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