I recently blogged about how schools are acclimating youth to constant surveillance. One of the risks, of course, is that youth will lose the ability to think independently and critically about issues. Intellectual freedom requires respect for privacy of the individual and a society that encourages mental exploration of what may be taboo topics. Intellectual freedom is something that universities prize and protect vigorously, and yet at the k-12 level, students are often deprived of the same protection. They may be suspended for expressing unpopular or political views on their shirts, they may be suspended for views they express on social media, and they may be deprived of opportunities to read books that might foster another world view or appreciation for diversity. And so, over the years, depending on where you went to school and when, you might have been told that books like 1984, Brave New World, Catcher in the Rye, or To Kill a Mockingbird were simply not suitable for young readers and were banned by your school.
September 25 – October 2 is Banned Books Week. And with that in mind, I note that the Stockton School Board in Missouri has banned a a National Book Award-winning book by Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, because of parental concerns about its content, which includes masturbation.
I grew up in a town where the school board did ban books. Thankfully, I was raised by parents who didn’t ban books.
According to the American Library Association (ALA)’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least 46 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the target of ban attempts. You can see the list on ALA’s site, here. The current issue of the AARP Bulletin also provides a list of banned books. You may be surprised at how many “classics” from your youth are on the list.
To the good people of Stockton, Missouri: I understand that you are concerned for your children. But rather than try to prevent access to books, why not read the books yourselves so that you can discuss them with your children and help them see the issues from your perspective? If your children really want to read something, they will get it one way or the other. Although good parenting does involve keeping your children safe from threats to their safety, good parenting isn’t about preventing your children from being exposed to others’ views or perspectives or from learning about how others experience or see the world. It’s about raising your children with the skills to critically examine and consider others’ views to learn who they are and what they think. And yes, sometimes your children will reject what you think or believe. As painful as it might feel, that’s okay, too. After all, do you really want the next generation to just be a nation of sheep who regurgitate only what they’ve been told or allowed to read? I don’t.
Thank you, ALA, as always, for all you do.