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by devourslowly

Apparently it is Banned Books Week in the US.  Amongst the ten most challenged books in 2009 by parents with school-aged children are To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye.

These days it feels like everyday is a special day of some sort and every week someone somewhere would want to celebrate/commemorate something.  I tend to have a more cynical take on these memorial days/weeks/years/decades/millennia.  Alan Bennett sums up my sentiment succinctly,

And all the mourning’s veiled the truth. It’s not “lest we forget”, it’s “lest we remember”. That’s what all this is about – the memorials, the Cenotaph, the two minutes’ silence. Because there is no better way to forgetting something than by commemorating it.

This line of thinking works quite well for me since I routinely forget Father’s Days, anniversaries, birthdays and all that jazz.  It is not that I do not appreciate you; I appreciate you very much every moment of every day.  Everyday is a special day *wiggle eyebrow*.  Works well until someone starts demanding breakfast in bed ALL THE TIME.

Anyway, I digress.

I was most surprised to learn that there is such as thing as banned books in this day and age.  I had always assumed such neolithic practices belonged to the days of Hitler and Mao Zedong when books were not only banned but publicly burnt.  Come on, you could hardly call Harper Lee or J D Salinger a dissenter.

What troubles me even more so is that this is happening at schools.  Parents are petitioning to remove books they deem objectionable from school libraries.  Censoring what one’s children read fine by me.  How one wants to bring up his/her own offspring is nobody else’s business.  But sending vituperative emails and demanding books to be removed from school libraries is tantamount to trying one’s hand at fascist leadership.  Just because your child is ‘banned’ from reading certain books does not mean other people’s children should suffer the same fate.

Surely in this age when we enshrine the principle of freedom of speech, there should be an equal and mirroring principle of freedom of information.  When it comes to youths, parents/caregivers act as mitigators for that freedom of information.  It is up to the adults who (supposedly) know better to select age reading materials for their children.

Let us not fool ourselves, kids do not learn bad language, violence, racism, sex and the many vices of adult life just from books.  Modern media outlets such as the cinema, television and the Internet are littered with gratuitous sex, swearing, discriminatory sentiments and many others that are much worse.  Surely the more graphical depictions would create a more lasting impression in the minds of suggestible youths than mere words.  Are parents prepared to filter every single piece of media their children are exposed to?  It is a huge job.

I am not advocating banality for the banality’s sake.  There should be some standard of good taste.  Book publishers (at least the mainstream ones who are responsible for most of the books in school libraries stock anyway) should be entrusted to be the gatekeeper of good taste and morality.  It is their job to allow for banality when it goes to the heart of the work’s artistic integrity.  In the case of To Kill a Mockingbird, surely a few discriminatory words here and there is not too big a price to pay for lessons of tolerance, justice and racial equality.

Failing that there are still the professional educators – the ones responsible for choosing the books to stock in school libraries.  If one cannot rely on the sound judgment of these people then I beg this question, Why are you still sending your children to these people to get an education?

Parents have a role to play in the lives of their children – parenting.  Schools are there to educate.  It is up to the school to give children knowledge and inspiration.  It is up to the parents to teach sound judgment and an acceptable code of morality.  I admit that parents today face a tough job at bringing up a well-rounded child.  But this is in no way a reason to abdicate one’s parental duties and shifting it onto someone else.

Books are just books.  Some of them reflect our society and its underbellies.  Take the time to talk to our children about what they are reading and teach them what is right or wrong by example.  I hardly think Harper Lee should be removed from schools just because nigger is a dirty word.  If the take home lesson from To Kill a Mockingbird for a child is the addition nigger into his/her daily vocabulary as a way to demean their peers and nothing else, then I think there is a bigger issue their parents must face – that they have raised an ill-informed and mean spirited little clown.