The Diary of Anne Frank is a brilliant, harrowing, and ultimately heart-wrenching account of a Jewish girl's attempt to escape the Nazis and the Holocaust during WWII. Last May, a parent in Michigan asked her district to eliminate this famous book from the curriculum, arguing that one short passage in the 320-page diary is too sexually explicit for students.
This same logic was used last fall here in the East Penn District in demanding two books be removed from the long list of summer reading options given to parents and students (Prep and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test). One of my opponents called those who were uncomfortable with such censorship "hateful Marxists promoting an agenda designed to corrupt our children."
I don't believe name calling is the proper way to address differences of opinion. But more importantly, I believe parents should be the primary decision-makers concerning what their children read, not school district administrators. In the case of our own district, the East Penn summer reading list explicitly states that teachers "encourage parents to read...book descriptions carefully with their children and assist them in selecting interesting, appropriate titles." We should empower parents to make informed decisions about books by noting potentially objectionable material in the descriptions on this list, not banning books from the list altogether.
I have deep concerns about the slippery slope of censorship. The First Amendment is critical to our democracy precisely because it recognizes that there is no one, objective standard that speech can be judged against. If one filthy passage in a novel makes the whole work "objectionable," then how long does the passage have to be? What words or descriptions are "pornographic" and which are merely uncomfortable? And what about "objectionable" political ideas? Or religious ideas? Should we ban from the curriculum all those books that are objectionable to someone in any of these ways too?
Katherine Paterson, author of the prize-winning (and much banned) book A Bridge to Terabithia perhaps puts it best when she writes:
"All of us can think of a book...that we hope none of our children or any other children have taken off the shelf. But if I have the right to remove that book from the shelf - that work I abhor - then you also have exactly the same right and so does everyone else. And then we have no books left on the shelf for any of us."
A quick glance at the American Library Association's list of most frequently banned books is a reminder of just how empty our shelves and reading lists might be if we try to eliminate everything to which anyone objects.