Friday, June 10, 2011

Children and Book Banning

Recently, a friend asked if I ban certain books at my house. As parents and educators it's natural to want to protect children. However, is banning books ever a good idea? I don't think so. It just makes kids more curious. The first thing I do when I hear a book is banned is check it out from the library and read it to find out why. Isn't it natural for children to do the same?

When my aunt was a teenager in the late 1960's, my grandmother would cut out every article on drugs, alcohol and hippies. Every morning when my aunt would see holes in the newspaper, she would rush to her friend's house to see what her mother cut out for the day and read the entire article. She probably wouldn't have read any of them at all if they had been allowed. The more my grandma tried to control her life, the more rebellious my aunt became. She eventually ran away from home, moved in with Janis Joplin for a few months and became addicted to drugs.

Book banning usually achieves nothing. We often miss out on great teaching opportunities when we close our minds to certain books. A conversation I had with my most internally aware child when she 14 to 15 years old went something like this.

"Mom, why would Huckleberry Finn  (Mark Twain) be one of the most banned books of all time?"
Me: "I guess because of the use of the 'N' word."
Child: "What 'N' word?"
Me: "'Nigger'. It's a derogatory word for African Americans and we don't use it in our home."
Child: "Well that's a stupid reason to ban a book. Isn't that how they talked back then?"
Me: "Yes, it was."
Child: "Well how are people supposed to stop talking like that if they can't read about how mean it sounds?"

My child made the point I have always felt. How are we supposed to make sure history doesn't repeat itself if we ban it from books? Thank you Mark Twain! Thank you Harper Lee!Thank you to all of the authors that make us think, make us feel and make us change. I listened to a talk from an author who worked with children of abuse. He wrote a book and used the language those children used on a daily basis. That book was banned from the school libraries for the explicit language, yet it changed the life of several readers who saw themselves on the pages. That book gave the readers hope who read beyond the language and recognized a way out of their situation. How sad that book wasn't allowed to touch more lives.

My mother in law once chided my daughter for reading a book she felt was inappropriate. Then she asked me why I would let my daughter read such an awful book. Truthfully, I had no idea the book was an adult romance full of gratuitous sex scenes that probably were inappropriate. I didn't know until I pulled the book out of the garbage, brought it in the house and asked my daughter why she threw it away. Her reply, "Mom, it's a really nasty book.I don't want to read it anymore." Without another word,  I put it back in the garbage can.

My daughter learned how to choose her own books and I learned how to use the book discussions to teach morals and values. I would rather have my child read a book and say, "What was it about that book that is bad?" rather than say, "I'm going to be bad and read the book you don't want me to read."

 I believe a parent should teach values to their children, both religious values and common decency values. When we let our children choose what they read, we tell them we trust them to make the right choice. That doesn't mean we should bring any and all books into our home. We have to keep in mind age appropriateness. As long as a child is still young, it is the parent's responsibility to choose appropriate reading materials. However, there will come the time when our children are exposed to books that will go against our belief system.Our children are better informed if we explain why a book is against our belief system and let them make a choice rather than telling them they can't read it. It usually doesn't become an issue until middle school.

Just remember, the harder a parent or group pushes to ban a book, the more that book is brought to the attention of a child. The more attention a book gets, the more curiosity it spurs to read the book. It becomes the 'forbidden fruit'. In the long run, banning a book will have the opposite effect by pushing the child to read something they may not have just out of curiosity.


Will Granger said...

It sounds like you did a very good job with your daughter. You trusted her, yet you did say you considered whether books were age appropriate. I think you did what a parent should do.
Please check out my blog post on a recent article on the same topic in the Wall Street Journal.

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