Thursday, October 05, 2006

Banning Banned Books

Now, this is the kind of American tradition I can get behind. Every year, the American Library Association declares the last week of September to be Banned Books Week. You'll see lists on the Internet and different places of books that have been banned -- lots of them are really good ones, but some betterthanyou person has decided you should not be able to read them

It's cool that it's the Library Association, of all people, those nice little old ladies with chopsticks in their hair. (Of course I'm actually thinking of Marian the Librarian, but that's me ...) I remember back in the day, sitting at the old monochrome computer screen, using telnet, dot-profiles, ftp, reading Usenet, all in text -- the Olde Days of the Internet -- it was actually the librarians who took the bull by the horns and started making something of it. I don't remember if it was the ALA or another librarians' group, but they were the ones who really started to use the Internet for good, before there were web browsers and AOL and a gazillion people out there.

Because it turns out, libraries are about information. They're not about shushing people, they're about getting information to them.

Remember earlier this year, when the Montgomery County Homeland Security guys tried to bust a guy looking at stuff they didn't like on the library computer? It was the librarians who threw a fit, they don't want the Secret Police hassling their customers.

So it's a little sad to see that this school in Harrisonburg VA is banning the banned-books display.
A display at Harrisonburg High School of books that have, at some point in history, either been banned or challenged was ordered removed last month by Harrisonburg Schools Superintendent Donald Ford.

The display, which Ford ordered removed Sept. 27, was part of the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, the last week of September.

Ford said he was concerned the school division would encourage students to read banned books because they are on a controversial list and not because of their content. Display of Banned Books Removed at Harrisonburg High School

Look, the ALA has a whole lot of lists of banned books, ordered all different ways, HERE. Like, just for a flavor, I'll give the "ten most challenged books of 2005," from that site:
  • “It's Perfectly Normal” for homosexuality, nudity, sex education, religious viewpoint, abortion and being unsuited to age group;
  • “Forever” by Judy Blume for sexual content and offensive language;
  • “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger for sexual content, offensive language and being unsuited to age group;
  • “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier for sexual content and offensive language;
  • “Whale Talk” by Chris Crutcher for racism and offensive language;
  • “Detour for Emmy” by Marilyn Reynolds for sexual content;
  • “What My Mother Doesn't Know” by Sonya Sones for sexual content and being unsuited to age group;
  • Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey for anti-family content, being unsuited to age group and violence;
  • “Crazy Lady!” by Jane Leslie Conly for offensive language; and
  • “It's So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families” by Robie H. Harris for sex education and sexual content.

Now, you gotta agree, that is some scary stuff. The grown-up half of those were mostly on my wife's reading-club list this past year. As for the other half, uh, it appears we are surrounded by idiots.

The great thing is, everybody knows what this is about. That's why we "celebrate" banned books week. All the bloggers put up lists, bolding the ones they've read, nobody is sorry they read any of these books, we brag about it.

Let me repeat: Captain Underpants.

Banning books is a classic way the puritans try to force their ridiculous narrow worldview on the rest of us. Well, that, and burning Elvis forty-fives. And throwing fits over sex-ed.

Go ask your parents what a forty-five is.


More from this story:
The high school library has participated in at least the past two Banned Books Week, said librarian Elsie Garber, who is in her third year at the library.

Garber would not comment on the display, other than to say it included several books.

Yeah, do librarians ever "need to spend more time with their families?"
School administrators would not release a complete list of the books in the display.

However, High School Principal Irene Reynolds recalled that the titles included "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain; "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury; "The Diary of Ann Frank," and "The Bible."

The American Library Association has held Banned Book Week since 1982.

According to its Web site, the ALA’s banned book week celebrates freedom to choose or to express an opinion that otherwise might be considered unorthodox or unpopular.

"After all," the site said, "intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met."

Now -- can you imagine? We live in a time when that statement is controversial. These librarians are traitors. If the terrorists get ahold of The Diary of Ann Frank, who knows, they might figure out you can hide in attics or something.
The high school library display, Ford said, seemed to entice students into reading the books because they are on a list.

"We are not going to send a message to kids encouraging them to read ‘banned’ books. Our message should be to read books, a wide variety of books.

Oooh hee hee hoo hoo, no, your job, dude, is to get kids to rise up against The Man. Obviously.

C'mon, the school is a place to learn, and kids need to know that grownups know that somebody is trying to put blinders on all of us. It's just a fact of life in America today, "some people" want to maintain a delicious state of outrage that demands you change your ways, whatever it is you're doing. And it's not just kids that get restrictions put on them, it's all of us.

And anyway, this is The American Librarian Association -- how can you be against a bunch of librarians?
"But I don’t think we should tease kids into reading a book by trying to say, ‘there might be something juicy or controversial in this book. Therefore, it would be a good one for you to sneak home and read."’

That is not the message, Ford said, that he believed librarians were trying to send with the display.

"I don’t believe there’s a significant difference in what they wanted to accomplish, and what I want to accomplish in terms of our libraries and reading," he said.

Something juicy? In Huckleberry Finn? In Diary of Ann Frank? Man, I might have to go back and look at those, because ... I missed it the first time.

Meanwhile, Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance is still up there at Number Nineteen at Amazon, thanks to Hugo Chavez, and my book has risen to Number One Hundred Ninety Eight Thousand, Nine Hundred Eighty Third. Thank you, my reading public, for putting me where I am today.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In America, people can print what they want and people can read what they want.

When schools decide a book is not appropriate part of the educational curriculum, whether he decision is right or wrong, that's not "banning" books. Anyone, even the kids, can read the books. It's just that teachers, employees of the public schools, cannot assign them, basically forcing kids to read them.

Ban: another English word victimized by TTF twisting.

TTF: Twist the facts!

October 06, 2006 11:29 AM  
Anonymous PTA said...

Don't twist your knickers into a knot, Anon. The banned book list contains not only "The Catcher in the Rye" but "The Holy Bible" as well.

Thank goodness for librarians who make sure all books that some people want banned are available for those who may wish to read them anyway.


October 06, 2006 2:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't comment on the choices. I simply made the point that the books weren't "banned". Telling teachers not to use a book isn't banning it.

True "banning" is the current example in PG County where the school has forbidden a student to read her Bible during lunch.

As a matter of fact, it's a little hard to understand how anyone who hasn't read the Bible could call themselves educated. Notably, this week Harvard University announced it was adding a religion course to its core curriculum required to earn a degree.

October 06, 2006 2:42 PM  
Anonymous PTA said...

"Telling teachers not to use a book isn't banning it."

Telling teachers not to use a book in the classroom does indeed ban the book from the classroom.

October 06, 2006 3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, if the school board decides not to use a certain textbook, that constitutes banning it? You think teachers are just supposed to be completely independent with no supervision or accountability?

If MCPS decides not to use the PFOX guide to reparative therapy will they be banning it?

October 06, 2006 4:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Learn that "banning" is always limited to a certain context. With your logic, "true" banning means the application of a ban to any place under humanitarian control.

If a school decides not use a certain textbook, what would result from that decision? If libraries are forbidden from stocking the book, and if teachers are forbidden from using it to teach, then the book is most certainly banned in those contexts.

October 06, 2006 4:59 PM  
Anonymous PTA said...

"So, if the school board decides not to use a certain textbook, that constitutes banning it?"

No. Banning a particular book means it is not allowed in the classroom, not available in the school library, and students are not permitted to read it in school. In MCPS, textbooks that are not selected to serve as the main textbook for a particular class are still allowed in the classroom, might be stocked in the library (depending of course on the availablity of funds to purchase extra textbooks), and are permitted to be possessed and read in school.

What Harrisonburg Schools Superintendent Donald Ford did was to ban a display of banned books because it was reported "he was concerned the school division would encourage students to read banned books because they are on a controversial list and not because of their content." We don't know if Ford actually bans the books on the banned book list from Harrisonburg schools or if he only banned the ALA display of banned books, but in the article cited in the blog, Superintendent Ford also stated:

"We are not going to send a message to kids encouraging them to read ‘banned’ books. Our message should be to read books, a wide variety of books."

I disagree with his first point. Reading some banned books should be encouraged IMHO. I have certainly encouraged my kids to read Mark Twain's books as fictionalized historical snapshots of America's past and encouraged them to read The Bible as well. But I wholeheartedly agree with Superintendent Ford's second point. It is important to read a wide variety of books and to be exposed to many differing points of view.

"You think teachers are just supposed to be completely independent with no supervision or accountability?"

No, but I don't think the talents of teachers should wasted reading scripted curricula either. They are professional educators, not thespians.

"If MCPS decides not to use the PFOX guide to reparative therapy will they be banning it?"

Religious views are banned from US public schools " preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution..."

October 07, 2006 10:52 AM  
Anonymous Signed, Bewildered said...

"If MCPS decides not to use the PFOX guide to reparative therapy will they be banning it?"

Anonymouse, where would PFOX get such a "guide?" Would this one of those mangled-up, badly spelled, ugly "brochures" they put out?


October 07, 2006 3:28 PM  

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