This has been an angry week, between the abortion flap in state news and the debt ceiling flap (do I really need to provide a link?) in national news. Almost everyone I know — including myself — is stewing over one view or the other (or even both). And hypocrisy abounds…
Hey, D.C. Democrats, remember 2006? That’s when Sen. Obama said, “Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.” But when your side does it, it’s more compromise than failure, right?
Hey, N.C. Republicans, remember January? That’s when Sen. Berger said, “Republicans will not stand idly by and watch as citizens’ rights to make their own health care decisions are taken from them by the federal government.” Why was that — because you figured only state government should have the fun of taking away those decisions?
So yeah, people are upset. Toss in the fact that the temperature’s been a hundred and plenty in the shade, and tempers are flaring. I’ve been trying to unplug and forget these issues for a while, so I was glad when my friend Don Vaughan gave me some other news to fume about; it seems book-banning is back….
The Republic, Mo., school board voted 4-0 Monday night to remove Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five from the curriculum, and Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer from the library, of Republic High School. Before we go any further, I must admit I have yet to read either of those books. (I think I just heard Don gasp somewhere.)
But why should I bother to read them when three of the four voting board members didn’t? At least I’m not sitting in judgment of the content I don’t know. But hey, that’s alright — rigid
school board members needn’t think for themselves when others are willing to do it for them. According to one story, “Several people read the books and provided feedback.”
Oh. Well. That’s okay, then — as long as you at least discussed their gossip before you voted on it. I suppose the most objectionable passage was the one where Holden, a boy wizard, suspects his deaf-mute Greek friend Lennie has accidentally killed an unwed pregnant teen, so Holden jostles the tree limb over the river and causes Lennie to fall onto a raft with a runaway slave, who sails him to an island where children live in anarchy and the only person willing to defend him is Boo Radley, who just got her first period — am I right?
The banning came courtesy of Wesley Scroggins, a Republic resident who last year raised the red flag with an article he wrote for the Springfield News-Leader: “Filthy books demeaning to Republic education.” Hey, thanks for the objective journalism, Scroggins. How about I pitch a story that’s every bit as unbiased? Maybe I could title it, “Ignorant hillbilly demeaning to American literature.”
Scroggins objected to several elements of local curricula, and was shocked that Christians would allow those elements in public schools. (I’m guessing the First Amendment had been banned wherever he went to school.)
He called out three titles after having “spent considerable time over the past couple of years reviewing various curricula across numerous grades in the school district.” This is an odd way for him to have spent his time, considering it’s not his job — he’s actually a university professor, which is even scarier to think about.
Scroggins has no discernible link to secondary education. His kids aren’t even part of the school system in question — they’re home-schooled, which means: 1) They won’t be exposed to the alleged filth; and, 2) They’re doomed.
Nope, Scroggins seems to have taken up curriculum-scouring just for the heaven of it. This tells me he’s either a self-appointed ombudsman, or just a huge buttinski. Whatever the case, Scroggins wrote his manifesto and warned readers that in Republic’s high school curricula, “children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography.”
This included Laurie Halsey Anderson’s Speak, which depicts teen sex and the rape of a 14-year-old girl, among other things. Um, Dr. Scroggins, pornography relies on eroticism, and if you consider child rape to be erotic, I submit that Republic would be better off keeping you out of their schools.
In the end, though, Speak made the cut. While Scroggins was disappointed with that, he applauded the board on their decision to ban the other two titles. After all, as he wrote, one of them “contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame.” And in the other, “drunken teens also end up on the beach, where they use their condoms to have sex.” Tell me, Mr. Stilted, what other use had you envisioned for said condoms, that you were disappointed so?
I understand that people have vastly different levels of tolerance to offensive language and subject matter. I have no problem with someone being offended easily, or wanting to shelter their kids — I’m a prudish parent, myself. But no one should try to force their standards on other families.
Books often depict real-life situations and themes, without necessarily condoning them. The only people who should judge whether kids are ready to read about such things, are their parents, their teachers, and the kids themselves — not some crazed crusader or a group of local government milksops.
If you don’t approve of the books your kids are reading, take reasonable action within that sphere only — opt out, but leave their friends out of it. Preview your children’s assigned books, think about them, rate them if you will — but don’t ban them.
Censorship creates a void, and when people react naturally by trying to fill it, they might just come up with something worse. A few well-placed beeps can make even Sesame Street sound suggestive.
Or, if we’re lucky, people will fill that void with what was supposed to be there. I’m sure at least a few high-schoolers in Republic are curious to know what all the fuss is about — I hope they’ll seek out those books elsewhere.
That’s the effect the article had on me — I’ll probably hit the book store tomorrow. As a supposed man of letters, I’m long-overdue for some Vonnegut, anyway. (And somewhere, Don breathes a sigh of relief….)