I've greatly appreciated Leila's posts over at Bookshelves of Doom covering a wide variety of book protests, book challenges, attempts at book-banning, and the like. Without her posts I would miss most of these stories, and it is so important to be aware.
Some of the attacks on books outrage me. But other book challenges... not so much.
I'm going to list a few examples below, with some of my thoughts. (As a note, this is just a small selection of the great posts on book challenges and such at Bookshelves of Doom. The rest are equally worth reading -- both the outrageous and the thought-provoking.) For each example below, I encourage you to go read the Bookshelves of Doom post, and read the newspaper article linked there too. Get all the info you can.
Then I'd like to hear your thoughts here. If you are a parent, a teacher, a librarian, a reader... tell me what you think about these cases.
Am I off my rocker?
A Few Outrageous Cases
A Mississippi woman bullied, badgered, and threatened legal action against Walden Books because they were selling a book about (say it in a whisper now) sex. The woman wasn't even happy when they moved the book to a high shelf to keep it out of view of children. Finally, Walden Books caved and moved all the books from the Relationship section to a back room, so that customers could only buy them by asking for them. This move seems to me both cowardly and stupid. Welcome to Oz.
A Missouri woman asked that two books be removed from the public library. Not a school library. And not shelved elsewhere. Public library. Removed. Who is she to limit what her neighbors can read? Ugh.
A Georgia woman filed a complaint to have the Harry Potter books removed from school library shelves because the books promote witchcraft. I'm fine if she wants to tell her children not to read Harry Potter. Heck, she can even tell them not to be friends with anyone who reads Harry Potter for all I care. But it's not okay for her to keep me from letting my kids read the Harry Potter books just because she doesn't like the books.
Okay, now here's where the issue gets blurry for me:
A Texas man filed a complaint with his daughter's school because he was unhappy with the language and themes in her assigned reading, Fahrenheit 451. Oh, and he hadn't read the book himself, so was judging it based on what he'd heard is in it, or based on a few excerpts that he'd seen. Now I love Fahrenheit 451. And I can't imagine how it would be inappropriate for a 15-year-old to read it. But as I read this article closely, I am struggling to condemn this guy.
His daughter was uncomfortable with the book. Based on what he'd seen or heard, he felt the book had language, images and/or values that he did not believe his daughter should have to read about. He filed the appropriate form/complaint to address the issue. And the teacher provided an alternate reading assignment for the daughter and one other student.
Do we condemn the man for being so close-minded that he would challenge a book he's not even read, and keep his daughter from (getting past her discomfort and) reading one of the best books there is?
Do we applaud the man for believing strongly in the values he's determined to raise his family with, for paying attention to what his child is being taught, and for standing up for those values?
Who was harmed? The other students in the class still got to read Fahrenheit 451 -- their rights and the rights of their parents were never impinged upon. We could say the daughter was harmed because she was allowed to continue in her closed world, but that's a judgment I'm not prepared to make. Who's to say her closed world, where bad language, smoking, drinking, etc have no place in what she reads, is wrong for her?
On this one, as much as I love the book in question, and think it is a shame the daughter missed out, I have to side with the dad.
Another note here - from the daughter's quote, I really do think she's missing out and living a very closed life; hopefully she'll grow out of it, but given the path she's on, it's quite likely she never will. I'm sad for that, but again, my sadness is based on my conception of a "good path," not hers.
Another one of the (for me) blurry cases:
A New Jersey woman (okay, a Texas woman living in NJ) complained to her daughter's school about the sexually explicit part of Gilgamesh which her daughter was assigned to read. The school provided an alternate translation of the same book; said translation apparently was not sexually explicit.
My argument here is similar to the last. The 15-year-old girl was uncomfortable with the sexually explicit part of the book, and mentioned this to her mother. Her mother looked at the material in question and agreed. The mother then took the appropriate steps to get her daughter a different version of the book.
The mother did not ask that the book not be taught at all, or that all children get the sexless version. She fought on behalf of her daughter. She did express concern that other parents should be aware of what their children were reading.
Should the mother's complaint and actions be seen as censorship (as characterized by one person cited in the newspaper article)?
Should the mother have the right to object to material she or her daugher finds objectionable?
I'm coming down on the side of the parent again here.
UPDATE: There is an interesting dialogue taking place in the comments of the post linked just above too.
And one I won't even comment on, but will leave you to read and ponder.
A California school board produces a list of things that will make a book inappropriate for school libraries. They even go so far as to suggest they can use white-out if there are just a couple of infractions, to keep a specific book in.
Please read carefully, especially the list of things that are "out."
What do you think about this one?