The censorship of school and library books
I like to read things that I disagree with.
Doing so not only gives me greater empathy for those with whom I differ, but every once in a while, it changes my own viewpoint.
A movement is afoot to censor what books libraries and schools can offer.
Such efforts are pernicious malignancies that metastasize from community to community, from state to state.
Dr. Sarah Bonner, who until last month taught in Heyworth school district, learned about this evil firsthand.
The English teacher in the rural McLean County, Illinois, school district became the subject of a school board meeting because of one of the books offered in her class.
The tome in question is titled “This Book Is Gay.” It explores topics teenagers encounter as they navigate through adolescence: dating, sex and safe sex practices.
And, no, it wasn’t required reading. It was one of more than 100 books that students in her class could choose from.
According to the reporting of my friend Edith Brady-Lunny the debate went viral after a pupil published images of certain pages on social media.
More than 80 people attended the next school board meeting. They didn’t come bearing pitchforks and torches, but they certainly wanted Bonner’s head. And before the meeting was over, she was forced to quit.
“Our kids deserve learning experiences that prepare them for our world and not just our town,” she told the school board.
Ironically, Bonner quit the same week Illinois legislators voted to withhold funding from public schools and libraries that ban books. The bill has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.
Unfortunately, pressure to censor comes from both the left and the right.
Last year, my own daughter’s class was reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” in a Springfield school when a parent complained about a racial epitaph used in the book. A school administrator ordered the class to discontinue studying the classic. Some of the youngsters never learned how the anti-racist tome ended.
Increasingly, our society is losing any sense of nuance.
In the book the lawyer Atticus Finch tells his young daughter, “Don't say n------er, Scout. That's common." She responds that everyone at school says it. He retorts, "From now on it'll be everybody less one."
In the context of the book, a life lesson is being taught – that even though a particular slur is common, it shouldn’t be said.
Isn’t that the lesson we want our youngsters to learn, in this age where that racial vulgarity increasingly finds its way into music and popular culture?
According to the American Library Association these are some of the most banned books:
"To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee
"The Catcher in the Rye," by JD Salinger
"The Grapes of Wrath," by John Steinbeck
"The Color Purple," by Alice Walker
"1984," by George Orwell
"Brave New World," by Aldous Huxley
"Native Son," by Richard Wright
"Slaughterhouse-Five," by Kurt Vonnegut
"A Separate Peace," by John Knowles
"The Lord of the Flies," by William Golding
The Illinois legislation would prohibit libraries from banning books or other material because of partisan or doctrinal pressure.
House Bill 2789 is being pushed by Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, whose office oversees the Illinois State Library and administers grants for public and school libraries.
It’s a measure whose time has come.
Most of the opposition to the bill came from Republican lawmakers who said it takes control away from local library and school boards.
But my prediction is that in coming years if this bill becomes law, folks on the left as well as the right will be frustrated because they won’t be able to remove books they don’t agree with from library shelves.
It is commendable that parents are monitoring what their children are reading. But it’s deplorable that some adults believe they can use government to keep other people’s children from reading something they disagree with.
Scott Reeder a staff writer for Illinois Times can be reached at [email protected].