The most frequent target of censorship attempts in 2015 was John Green’s Looking for Alaska. The year before it was another young adult novel, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
Censoring books, whether in the form of keeping them off library shelves, off reading lists, or outright bans, does not help us maintain our values or protect our children. Quite the opposite.
Freedom of expression-- and the free exchange of ideas-- are at the foundation of our community’s strength. Young adult author Laurie Halse Anderson puts it this way: “Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance.”
Like most people, there are many books whose content I find appalling; books I hope my children never read. But those books should be protected too. That is the very meaning of free speech. As the prolific Neil Gaimon has said, “The same laws cover the stuff you like and the stuff you find icky, wherever your icky line happens to be: the law is a big blunt instrument that makes no fine distinctions...you only realise how wonderful absolute freedom of speech is the day you lose it.”
“It’s not just the books under fire now that worry me,” says Judy Blume (you know, of Super Fudge fame), “it is the books that will never be written, the books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”
I’ve written about the censorship issue in our own community before. I’m sharing these thoughts and quotes from famous children’s book authors today in support of the American Library Association’s “Banned Books Week,” which raises awareness of the continued problem of censorship in our bookstores, libraries and schools. You can find the top 10 list of most frequently challenged books in 2015, as well as lots of other information, at their website.
So please, the next time you discover a book that is offensive, overly sexual, sacrilegious, racist, or otherwise objectionable-- don’t call for banning it. Trying to hide such ideas never works. Instead, just return it to the shelf and help your kid-- or yourself-- find something better.
Here is John Green’s response to having written the most challenged book of last year. He is far more articulate than I in making the case that banning books just doesn't make sense-- a great 3 minutes:
Previous posts on the issue of book censorship:
Please consider applying for the open position on the East Penn School Board. Longtime board member Francee Fuller resigned at the last meeting, leaving an open seat on the board. A (short) application is due by October 3, and board members will appoint someone after public interviews on October 10.
My chief focus in the selection process will be finding a volunteer who understands the critical role public schools play in our democracy. I hope we have applicants who can be both a strong advocate for our schools and a frank critic of policies and procedures that can be improved; someone who can make decisions transparently, based on facts and evidence rather than reactionary emotion or political ideology. It can be a tough gig, but also very rewarding! You can get more details by clicking here.
My post on the trumped up transgender bathroom controversy at Emmaus High School got a bigger response than anything I’ve ever put on this blog. If you're like me, you probably didn’t grow up around many people who were openly transgender and very well might not have friends or family who publicly identify as trans. One of the chief sources of uncertainty, fear, and controversy around transgender students in our school district stems from this lack of knowledge and familiarity. Here are the most helpful things others have sent me to help overcome such uncertainty and fear...
A short but moving description from a mother of a trans girl who makes clear that the issue is about the dignity and worth of our children, not political correctness:
A father-- Republican, National Rifle Association member, and military veteran-- discussing the difference between his twins, one of whom is trans:
An explanation by a trans girl helped me walk a few minutes in her shoes:
A more local perspective is provided by a recent feature story by the Morning Call, which profiles the journey of two Lehigh Valley trans students and offers some helpful definitions of different terms used in discussion of sexual identity.
One doesn’t have to agree with everything the speakers in these videos and article say to agree with the hope that all our children have the right to claim their own authentic identity and not have one forced on them by outside social norms or peer pressure.
Okay, I’ll fess up and say that I don’t know if there are seven things to be learned here, or twenty things, or three. But if you’re like me, you certainly learned something.