Banned Books Week: Giving students the freedom to read

kr2rp1002One of the organizations on the front lines of book challenges is The Kids’ Right to Read Project, a collaboration between the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the National Coalition Against Censorship. It is stunning to me not only some of the books it has joined the battle over, but the reasons advanced to ban some of the books. Here’s a sampling of its cases from December 2006 to May 2008:

  • Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was challenged at the Manchester (Conn.) High School because of racially sensitive language. The book was being read by 11th graders.
  • The principal of the Wilton (Conn.) High School cancelled a student play about Iraq called Voices in Conflict. He said he did so due to questions of political balance and context.
  • Vamos a Cuba by Alta Schreier was banned in April 2006 by the Miami-Dade County School Board because a local parent complained that the book painted too favorable a picture of Cuba. The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 177-page decision earlier this year that, by a 2-1 vote, upheld the school board’s action on the grounds the book was removed from school libraries because it was inaccurate, not for political purposes. In the course of the opinion, the two-judge majority noted that removing a book from a school library “is not book banning.”
  • In early March 2007, a local pastor challenged Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher, which was being read in 10th grade English classes at Missouri Valley (Iowa) High School on grounds of “objectionable language.”
  • An organization calling itself the Livingston Organization for Values in Education challenged five books at Howell (Mich.) High School: Black Boy by Richard Wright, Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell. The group complained the books contained for sexual themes and profanity. When the school board voted to keep all the books, the organization filed complaints with the Michigan Attorney General and the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming the books violated laws against child pornography and sexual abuse.
  • A parent in Appomattox, Va., sought to have John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck removed from the 10th grade English curriculum at Appomattox High School becuase of graphic language in the book.

Now I understand some parents want to strictly control what their children read. Although I may not necessarily agree with them, that is their choice. As I’ll talk about later this week, both the Sioux Falls School District and Siouxland Libraries allow parents to restrict what their children read. What they try to avoid is what I find most offensive with the efforts above — the parents and organizations in these cases are trying to prevent access by anyone in the school.

That is the problem with banning books. Your freedom to decide what you and your family will read does not give you the right to tell me or my family what books we can have access to and read.

Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won’t have as much censorship because we won’t have as much fear.

Judy Blume

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