Column for 22 February, 2009

Censorship By Any Other Name


“It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.  So watch yourselves.”

                                                                                                                               –Luke 17:2-3a


I love books.  Always have.  I started reading at three years old (not to brag) and haven’t stopped since.  I’m usually reading 3-4 at a time and I have a bookshelf filled with the ones I haven’t gotten to yet.  I blame my parents for setting a good example.  They never forced me to read but I always saw them reading.  I will never get one of those gizmos.  Nothing beats the feel of a book, the joy of turning a printed page.  So when I learn that some people are trying to ban a book, I take it personally.  The concerned parents (full disclosure: I know a lot of them and used to live next to two of them) who are opposed to Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth” (full disclosure: I’ve never read it, though I did read the helpfully highlighted “naughty bits” in the petition that was for some unknown reason being distributed at the Guinn Justice Center) insist that they do not want to “ban” the book.  This is, with all due respect, a specious argument.  Let’s examine the facts:  an English teacher (full disclosure: she was my English teacher, too, and I thought she was one of the coolest teachers I’d ever had) in an elective Advanced Placement English class has been assigning “Pillars of the Earth” for more than a decade.  Recognizing that it contains some explicit passages, the teacher provided an alternate book for students whose parents might be troubled by the material.  In other words, no one has EVER been forced to take this class and no one has EVER been forced to read that book.  The aforementioned parents have decided that some passages in this book are pornographic.  They aren’t.  Explicit, yes, but not even remotely close to pornography.  However, I recognize that everybody has different views on the subject.  As Justice Potter famously said when asked to define pornography, “I know it when I see it.”  If some parents find “Pillars of the Earth” to be pornographic, I would certainly expect them to have their children choose the alternate assignment, or perhaps not even take the course.  That is their right as parents, and I would respect that whether I agreed with it or not.  That is not, however, what they did.  Instead, this parent’s group proposes to dictate to me and every other parent in the Cleburne Independent School District how to raise our children.  Excuse me, but I don’t remember voting for any of these people, and I certainly don’t recall inviting them to make parenting decisions for me.  Neither of my children are old enough to take this course, but when they are, the decision will be between me (and their mother) and the teacher.  I can understand why the concerned parents are concerned; I, too, worry about the sort of things my children are exposed to through the mass media and the dominant culture—violence, immorality, venality, materialism.  But, to be frank, as the censorship proponents stoop to ad hominem attacks on the teacher, their attitude strikes me as self-righteous at best and arrogant at worst.  And let’s continue their position to its’ logical conclusion: how many parents must object for school curriculum to be changed?  The parents group claims “over 900” names.  Assuming they are all parents, is that enough?  How about 100 parents?  Ten?  One?  I personally don’t like the fact that my kids have to endure Thanksgiving activities at school that consist of bad history and grotesquely stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans.  Am I entitled to have all Thanksgiving (and don’t even get me started on Columbus Day) activities banned for all children throughout the district?  To use a more extreme example, could a parent who is a Holocaust denier demand that the district not teach from “The Diary of Anne Frank”?  It seems clear to me that the teacher and the school district had already done everything practical and reasonable to accommodate any parents who find this book offensive.  Therefore, I was extremely disappointed that superintendent Ronny Beard reflexively knuckled under to the pressure and (whether he chooses to call it that or not) banned the book pending “investigation”.  One of the many reasons for low teacher morale throughout the public school system is the reluctance of educational bureaucrats to support them.  However, I am very impressed with the courageous stand some school board members (full disclosure: I voted for some of them) took in defense of academic freedom.  And I am even more impressed that the committee chosen to investigate “Pillars” includes a student representative.  Children rise to our level of expectations.  Already, I have read many thoughtful and intelligent comments by current students on the Facebook Group created to support “Pillars.”  Hopefully, our young people will be encouraged to develop their critical thinking skills, learn how to take and defend positions on thorny issues, and become leaders.  If that happens, then perhaps the controversy will be worth it.  But to the concerned parents, I say let’s make a little deal; you raise your kids and I’ll raise mine.

Published in: on February 20, 2009 at 10:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Here, here!

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