As Banned Book Week closes I am prompted to open up what is either a tempest or a tornado depending upon your cup of tea. The above reflection captures my dichotomy of thought when it comes to banning, censoring, or challenging intellectual expression. It all comes down to which hat I am wearing. The following is based on real life examples seen in three different perspectives.
Figuratively speaking this hat involves closing mouth and opening brain. Please don’t come up to my desk and say, “I can’t believe you have The Joy of Sex on the library shelves. First of all, I didn’t buy the book. That decision wasn’t mine, and the book occupied the shelves long before I came on staff. Secondly, the library is funded with public taxpayer money and if enough people requested it then the book is bought. Thirdly, if the book offends you I suggest you don’t check it out. And please don’t take our books into the bathroom. Yes, that’s why we have the security gate before you go into the hallway with the restrooms. We have seen the soggy results of indiscriminate censoring.
If I wanted my children to learn about the birds and bees I will tell them, on my own terms and in my own way, sans the graphic illustrations. I can’t believe the library allows a fourteen year old to check out The Joy of Sex. She isn’t even dating yet! Why have something available that she isn’t ready to understand? How did I know she checked it out? When I moved her backpack into her room I noticed the cover. Good grief! Was I shocked! It’s almost pornography! My tax dollars buys this kind of stuff!
“Here is a note from my dad.” I read it and discover I am to assign something else for his daughter to read during the next quarter unit book study. The book? Lord of the Flies. Furthermore, she was not to be present in the classroom during the unit. He found the aspect of children killing children too strong for his daughter. I respected his request, and did so because I believe in his parental right of choice. I also have to because our school practices an “op-out” policy, which means if a parent is opposed to the text assigned another is given in its place. It happens. And it’s okay. It’s inconvenient, but it’s okay.
Informed Citizen Hat
We live in a land where we are allowed the freedom of choice when it comes to expressing our creative endeavors. We don’t have to worry about the secret and not-so-secret police storming into our households because we have told a joke that mocks the current leader, or because the bible we received as a gift from a visiting missionary is against my country’s religion, or because I’m watching a movie that offends a segment of the population. As an American I have that protected freedom. I am thankful.
Now on the flip side, my personal, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual beliefs may not line up with the person next to me. I know inherently what is best practice for me in terms of reading and viewing, yet I can’t make that decision for you. Yes, I might express my opinion–I’m entitled to do so, and you might not like it. You see, I’m conservative in most of my views. I’m a bit a puritan, I suppose. But I have a difficult time faulting your right to make an informed choice. I do not want to end up in a society like the one Ray Bradbury created in Fahrenheit 451, where the government didn’t stop the reading of books–people did, for fear of offending one another.
And while I do believe in intellectual choice, with all these hats I wear, my concerns and allegiances to what is best practice gets a bit muddled.
I say it’s professional discretion when it comes to not selecting certain AP books off the suggested read list. Is this censoring? No. I’ve listened to my students and sensed they were not ready for Brave New World or 1984. Am I saying they shouldn’t read it? Not at all. I’m saying I won’t be teaching it at this time, especially when there are so many other books to choose from.
I say it’s my parental obligation to protect my child from that which might be harmful to my child’s well-being. Is this censoring?Certainly not. Every family, every parent has the right to choose best for what is best for them and their family. Society can influence, yet families shape the future. I’m not banning; I’m protecting.
We are all gate-keepers in our own way. We allow how wide the gate will swing open. Banned Book Week is officially over for another year. Or is it? We are challenged daily when it comes to making decisions of discernment. To ban, to censor, to act out of discernment–now, that, dear reader, is quite the question.