Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Book Week

A sticky topic, censorship, which is essentially what banning a book means. I'm of two minds about the subject: (1) I think some books are inappropriate for classroom teaching and (2) No book should be jerked from a library, school or public, because a few people complain. To offer further explanation, I was appalled at some of the books one of my sons was required to read in high school. Now, believing that education begins at home, I knew he wasn't reading about any topic that we hadn't discussed, at least nominally if not fully. Still, I felt that there were other books with more literary value--if, indeed, the purpose of English/American literature was to teach that subject.

I was further appalled when he told me that there was no class discussion, only independent reading and paperwork (worksheets, tests,etc.) I began to wonder why the books were chosen, and I'm still not sure. But, being a teacher myself, I didn't charge up to the school and voice my distaste for certain books.

Let's face it--"classic" authors dealt with the same weighty subjects.There's nothing new under the sun! The Scarlet Letter comes to mind. Did Hawthorne present his topic as graphically as authors do today? No. Still, it was all out there.

I believe that the classic books which have been discarded in favor of the newer ones are still valuable. My son hated Great Expectations and loved Jane Eyre. He'll never forget To Kill a Mockingbird, a book that I understand is banned in some places.I love Joseph Conrad--and I've seen some of his books on the "banned/challenged" lists, too. We may as well ban life if we can't write about it!

The point is, there's age-appropriate, and there's appropriate in general, and I think everybody needs to use some common sense. I also think that parents have abdicated their parental oversight, so their outrage isn't necesarily justified. Carelessly-chosen books in the classroom are asking for trouble. That's not to say these same books shouldn't be available for independent reading.

Do I support common decency in the arts? Absolutely. I can close a book, walk out of a theatre, or choose not to go to an exhibit. I abhor the idea of pornography. But there have to be standards of decency. The line must be drawn somewhere--consistently. Rational discussion, not political correctness, must govern our decisions.

I watched the television series The Waltons faithfully. One of the most moving episodes took place either just before or at the beginning of World War II. The local minister, in his misguided attempt to speak out against the evil of Nazism, organizes a community book burning of German-language books. Horrified, John-Boy points out to the minister that his actions are no better than those of Hitler, who also supported burning books.

He snatches a volume from the bonfire before it is consumed and hands it to one of his neighbors, a woman of German ancestry who is fluent in the language. Reluctantly, she opens the book and begins to read.

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth...

The scene brought me to tears. In it is a lesson for us all.

Please follow this link to another blog on this topic by Margo Dill. It's a worthwhile read.


Anonymous said...

I abhor the thought of banning books. I've always had the thought of freedom of reading what we want there should be common sense prevailing among us. I won't read certain books not because it was banned, that may make me want to read these books even more, but because they appeal to me. I, too, took something from that same Walton's episode, that just because we don't understand or don't want to understand, doesn't mean we have to ban others from understanding. Thanks Judy for reminding us that book banning is still out there and that we should use our own judgment on what we should or should not read!

K9friend said...

Excellent points, Judy!

It's certain that we each hold a different judgement on the merits of the written word. But none of us should lose the right to have a choice.

(BTW, loved your reference to The Waltons. I loved that show, and from time to time pull out my trusty DVD's to enjoy!)

PattyK said...

Great post, Judy. Very balanced view. Wish there were shows like the Waltons on TV today.

nlindabrit said...

Thank you for a very thought-provoking post, Judy. I do so agree about parental responsibility for overseeing the reading habits of a child. I remember when I was 12 and I had virtually exhausted the children's library at our local library. Mum persuaded the librarian to give me tickets for the adult library and promised she would supervise my reading, which she did. My dear mother introduced me to some of my favourite authors and guided my youthful taste.

Margo Dill said...

Thanks for sharing that scene from The Waltons--very moving, indeed. Also, thank you for linking to my blog.

Margo :)