I am often on the receiving end of unsolicited parenting advice, or even worse, demands that the rules others apply to their children must also apply to mine.
Recently, one parent requested that my child’s school serve juice to none of the children because her child isn’t allowed to have it (for reasons unrelated to life-threatening allergies, for which I would make an exception).
Another parent suggested that all the kindergarteners receive more homework simply because she didn’t feel that the amount proposed by the teacher would be sufficiently challenging for her child. Really? I’m not even sure five-year-olds should have homework at all, much less more of it.
Thankfully, these are just minor annoyances, but they demonstrate a certain attitude that is unfortunately common: What’s best for my family is what’s best for all families.
It’s partly because of this attitude–more pernicious examples of it–that we have so many challenged or banned books to celebrate this week (for those who don’t know, it’s Banned Books Week from September 22nd through September 28th).
In 2011, there were 326 reported instances of books being challenged or removed from library shelves in the United States (I’m sure there are many that go unreported). According to the American Library Association, library patrons challenged these books for a variety of reasons, often to “protect” children from what some consider offensive material, including profanity, sexual themes, or certain political or religious views.
For people with the audacity to challenge a book, it isn’t enough to tell their own children to refrain from checking out that book. They feel a need to make sure that my children can’t check out that book, too. They attempt to impose their views on me, my children, and everyone else without delineating why the book presents a clear harm to anyone.
Thankfully, our highest court in the United States has declared that public school boards (to which the First Amendment of the US Constitution applies), which often act in response to parent complaints, may not remove books from libraries “simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.” Bd. of Educ. v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982) (internal citation omitted).
The problem, though, is that this case is weak. As I discussed in a previous post, Banning Books that Promote Tolerance? (talking about Todd Parr’s The Family Book and Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson’s And Tango Makes Three):
As a plurality opinion (meaning a majority of the court couldn’t agree on anything) from three-decades ago with a completely different composition of the Supreme Court, it’s hard to know whether the Supreme Court would follow it today.
In fact, in 2009, the Federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit concluded that Pico “establishes no standard.” ACLU, Inc. v. Miami-Dade County Sch. Bd., 557 F.3d 1177, 1200 (11th Cir. 2009). The 11th Circuit then decided that a school board’s decision to remove a book from library shelves did not violate the First Amendment because, whether or not Pico applies, the school board’s removal decision was due to “inaccuracies” in the book, not because “they dislike[d] the ideas contained in [the] book.” Id.
On the surface, it makes sense to permit the removal of factually inaccurate books. Stan and Jan Berenstain’s The Day of the Dinosaur–a book I loved when I was six–wasn’t even accurate at the time it was published (as I discuss in The “Brontosaurus” Between Us).
However, in many cases, how we decide what is “inaccurate” is often far from objective. For example, some may challenge a book about evolution based on their perception that it’s “inaccurate” because it contradicts a biblical view of human history, while to quote paleontologist Dr. Scott Sampson in The Dinosaur Odyssey, the theory of evolution has “with[stood] decades of testing and [has] become accepted as fact.” So, what may seem like a challenge based on “inaccuracies” may be nothing more than an underhanded effort to favor a certain political and religious viewpoint.
My preferred way to deal with books that contain ideas I disagree with or facts I believe are false is to have a discussion with my children about why I feel the way I do. I would not impose my beliefs on everyone else by insisting that the book disappear. As Justice Brandeis wrote in a concurring opinion in Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927), “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence. Only an emergency can justify repression.”
Of course, there are people who may find my position hypocritical. They might think I’m imposing my views on their families by exposing their children to ideas contrary to the way they’ve been raised at home. This point reminds me of a one-star review one reader (“Ike”) left on Amazon for Todd Parr’s It’s Okay to be Different (an excellent children’s book I discuss in What’s Not Okay):
I use this book to teach my children about how the left attempts to brainwash children like the Hitler youth. Then, 15 years later, they are voting Democrat in every election… Can’t believe the religion of diversity is allowed, but the religion of traditional values is not. Why is that? Why does the left feel the overwhelming need to reach our precious children when they are most vulnerable? …
I suppose I commend “Ike” for using the book as a teaching tool, as opposed to demanding its removal, but the reasons he gives for using it are the same ones others have used for removing books from library shelves (see here for examples of books that have been challenged due to “ungodly” content or same-sex families).
All I can say to folks like that is this: exposure to many different ideas doesn’t brainwash people. It’s the exposure to only one idea or belief system that does. If the mere exposure to new ideas is enough for those old beliefs to crumble, then its proponents should stop to consider why their beliefs aren’t more persuasive. In my opinion, an idea that can’t withstand a fair debate isn’t an idea worth passing onto the next generation.
*Image: My youngest daughter (summer 2012) with And Tango Makes Three, a children’s book that has been challenged numerous times due to the fact that it features same-sex penguins raising a baby.
Thanks for this amazing post that addresses so many different points. As a lesbian mom, I have thought about this issue and I try very hard to find books that represent “our family”. I have to say that it’s been challenging as Indian (South Asian) parents and as lesbians, but I have found many books like the tango book and I too am glad that these books are accessible here in the US. At first, I wasn’t getting any books that had dads in them because I wasn’t ready to answer that question. But then I realized that that didn’t make any sense at all and defied everything I believed in about letting him witness diversity. So in total agreement with your point about creating dialogues. Our son (born dec 2011) hasn’t asked us the question just yet about not having a daddy but I am definitely prepared for it.
Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog. Books are a great way to reinforce diversity. I am half South Asian (Sri Lankan), and I love finding books that feature ethnically diverse characters. It’s difficult to find ones that don’t overemphasize the differences but also aren’t so subtle about it that my kids don’t notice the diversity. I talked about this issue in my post on Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy, a middle grade book (https://misfortuneofknowing.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/racial-diversity-in-childrens-books-the-pros-cons-of-subtlety/). There has been a lot of pressure lately for books that feature diversity, including LGTB families. I hope the publishing industry will get the message soon.
My daughters (ages 6, 6, and 3) have always just accepted that there are some families with two mommies, two daddies, one mommy and one daddy, one parent, etc. Their best friend is adopted and looks nothing like her parents (but is exactly like her mother in personality!), and my girls have always just accepted that too. It helps that we live in a diverse area, but books like Todd Parr’s Family Book have also reinforced this message.
Yes times a million to every single word. Love this post!
“If the mere exposure to new ideas is enough for those old beliefs to crumble, then its proponents should stop to consider why their beliefs aren’t more persuasive. In my opinion, an idea that can’t withstand a fair debate isn’t an idea worth passing onto the next generation.” – Exactly!
Thanks, Leah! There’s no reason to fear new ideas unless you’re worried that your old ones aren’t strong enough to withstand the debate.
Thanks for reposting this. I am going straight off to buy And Tango Makes Three for my twins!
I hope they enjoy it! My girls really do (it helps that penguins are among their favorite animals at the zoo).
It’s true, how annoying it is to come across parents who think that they know what’s best for all children, because of how they feel about bringing up their own.
I’ve not read Tango Makes Three, but it’s such a sweet story – is it the one that’s based on real life?
Yes, And Tango Makes Three is based on a real-life story! The real penguins live at New York’s Central Park Zoo. They’re aren’t a couple anymore, though: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/24/nyregion/24penguins.html?_r=0
Reblogged this on The Misfortune Of Knowing and commented:
Banned Books Week (Sept. 21-27) is the time of year when (1) I acknowledge how lucky I am to live in a country with a Constitution that recognizes our right to share and receive information; and (2) I marvel at the arrogance some people have to challenge this right by demanding that public libraries and schools remove certain books from their shelves.
As I wrote last year during this event:
“For people with the audacity to challenge a book, it isn’t enough to tell their own children to refrain from checking out that book. They feel a need to make sure that my children can’t check out that book, too. They attempt to impose their views on me, my children, and everyone else without delineating why the book presents a clear harm to anyone.”
What is it about the exposure to new ideas through books that scares these people so much? It’s a question I explored in my favorite post on this blog, Please Stop Parenting My Children, re-blogged here:
Also! Also! I LOVE the Todd Parr books. I know why people oppose them, but it just seems so asinine when the message is so positive. Another time we’ll talk about my daughter’s recent reaction to Tango. (She’s had it since birth, but let’s just say recently, it seems like someone has been beaming Fox News into her head… Okay, we just talked about it. ANYWAY.)
Yeah, the Todd Parr books are great! I’ve gotten a few searches to my blog for Todd Parr and “family values.” I don’t think those readers like what they find here!
It’s interesting to hear about your daughter’s reaction to Tango. How old is she? Is her reaction related to her environment at school? We live in a very progressive area (it’s actually where I grew up), but I have noticed how my daughters’ peers have been challenging some of the messages I’m trying to impart to my children. In particular, I’m struggling to get them to stop adhering to gender stereotypes. Ugh.
She’ll be four in October – we’re in a progressive area, one of her classmates has lesbian moms… but she is a girly-girl – we work on gender stereo-types, but to no avail it seems. We’ve discussed her classmates ‘two mommies’ and she’s fine with that – but the two male penguins… I don’t know, she just freaked out one night about it.
My youngest is three right now too (she’ll turn four in April, though). She’s also a girly-girl, much more so than either of her sisters were at that age.
As for Tango, considering the way you’re raising your daughter and her surrounding environment, I’m sure she’ll get used to the idea of two daddy penguins. So far, my kids accept it without any difficulty, but they haven’t really asked any questions about it. In real life, they know quite a few families with two mommies and one with two daddies.
That’s what the husband says. Sometimes I capitulate to Mom-Worries. 🙂
Oh, me too. I come across as much more rational on this blog than I really am in real life! 😉
Yep. This post was awesome. You hit all the right points. 🙂
Thank you! It’s one of my favorite posts because it covers so many topics that matter to me, including the First Amendment, the free exchange of ideas, and parenting.
Have you read ‘The System of Freedom of Expression’ by Thomas I. Emerson? I took a First Amendment class (only the speech/assembly clauses though) where the professor turned me on to it. It’s dated, 1970, but still really good. (Somehow I missed the Religion Clause class. Damn it!)
Hmmm, not that I remember. I’ll look into it! My Con Law class was very heavy on the First Amendment, which I didn’t appreciate at the time. I remember wishing we’d spent more time on Equal Protection and Due Process.
Ironically, I took First Amendment before I took Con Law II which covered all the ‘fun stuff’ (including the First Amendment). We’re not FB friends so you missed my comment on the fact that the GA Essays this go around asked a question SPECIFICALLY about the ruling SCOTUS made this term in GREECE (sectarian prayers before town meetings) — I was SO. PISSED. Because bar exam wisdom tells you not to use decisions made in the last two years but Greece was all I could think about.
Wow, that’s cruel! I’m surprised they’d include a question that implicates such a recent decision. Maybe they won’t include it in the scoring if the answers are all over the place?
I’m just glad it wasn’t a second amendment question – which has happened in GA in the past. 🙂
Very well said! I don’t have kids yet, but it really gets my hackles up to hear about certain parents who want to dictate what other people’s children can or cannot read. I imagine I will one day be one of those parents who consults the Banned & Challenged Books lists for ideas about what I TO read with my kids — books that explore important and difficult issues and topics, rather than shy away from them. I do understand that those who try to ban books likely mean well, but it does more harm than good to only expose others to one narrow view of the world, in my opinion.
Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier & for the follow 🙂
Hi! The banned books list is a great place to find thought-provoking reading material for children. There are times when I’ve determined that certain reading material isn’t appropriate for my children at their age–an assessment that will vary from family to family–but I would never try to prevent other people’s children from having access to it (one example is Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves, which I think is more appropriate for slightly older children than the publisher’s recommended age).
Thanks for stopping by!
I really hope you do welcome dissent. I have gritted my teeth and kept silent when I see parents letting their children run wild in malls, restaurants, in lines at the bank, in libraries. Finally, when a child of four ran up and stared at my wheelchair-bound mother, inches away from my mom’s face as we were waiting in line at a fast-food restaurant, I spoke up. Politely, I said, “honey, my mother wishes to be left alone.” She didn’t get the point. I mean this girl was GAWKING at my 97 year old mother, with her hands on my mom’s armrests! Her mom was giggling and genuinely thought it was adorable behavior. Finally, I gently tapped the child’s shoulder and pointed to her mother and said, “honey, please go see your mother.” Well! That mom reacted as if somebody had just ran over her child with a truck!
If you think other people don’t have the right to speak up and say something about the way you’re letting your children behave, then I invite you to fund your own schools. Cover your own hospital expenses. By all means, free me from the burden of subsidizing your child’s rearing in America.
I will “meddle” when I see kids acting up and intruding on adults — and I see this all the time, and so do parents, if they’re honest with themselves — and I honestly don’t care if you approve or not.
I certainly do appreciate dissent. There’s almost nothing I dislike more in the “blogosphere” than a blogger who can’t handle respectful opposition. That said, I don’t see your position as entirely inconsistent with mine. I wouldn’t fault anyone for stopping a child from interacting with them and their family members in an inappropriate way. If a child gawked or bullied someone in my family, I would speak to that child’s parents because that child’s behavior has impacted my family in a clear way. Also, speaking to that child’s parents (even if it’s unsolicited parenting advice), is the least meddlesome/restrictive response that protects your family. In the book banning example in my post, I don’t think there is a clear harm to anyone, and I also think that parents who dislike the message of a particular book can instruct their children to avoid that book rather than insist that the library withdraw it from circulation.
This post is awesome! You made a great case (though of course, I expected nothing less.) I also love, love, LOVE that And Tango Makes Three is part of your kids’ library.
Hi Katie! And Tango Makes Three is such a great book. I’m glad you liked the post. Obviously, this is an issue I care very much about. Thanks for stopping by!
Great post. I’m with you all the way.
Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
YES, yes to all of this. It’s always been my feeling that where other people’s children are concerned, the best course is to stay out of it unless the child is in actual physical danger (i.e., you notice that the parent doesn’t seem to know the correct way to secure the child in a car seat – then perhaps a gentle word is in order, but only then). And when it comes to books, well, what a parent is comfortable with their child reading is the law of the house, but to demand that everyone else bend to your own house rules is unreasonable. Great post!
Hi Jaclyn! I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I’m amazed by the amount of time people spend scrutinizing other households and parenting styles. It’s none of their business, as long as the children aren’t in any direct physical danger (as you say).
I hope you and your family are having a great weekend! I imagine the trees must be beautiful already in Buffalo. The colors are just starting to show around here.
Unsolicited parenting advice. Oh, isn’t that just the BEST?
I love this post and I love the comments as well. It does my heart so good to know that people who let their kids shine INDIVIDUALLY are out there. Yay for us! Totally tooting my own horn here 😉
Well, I think you can toot your own horn! From your daughter’s review of The Giver, it’s obvious that you’re doing something right! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂
As a child I read what I wanted and am no worse for reading even the “shocking” things.
That’s how I feel, too. My parents didn’t shelter me from much when it came to reading material, and I think I’m better off because of that type of parenting style. That said, I don’t mind that others raise their children differently–I’ll stay out of their business as long as they stay out of mine!
Brilliantly put 🙂
Thank you! I hope you’re having a nice weekend!
Oh, I am not looking forward to those sorts of clashes with other parents. That said, I loved the quote, “The remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
I think this is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on WordPress. And I love you conclusion – in the long terms, fear-based ideas won’t stand.
That’s very nice of you to say! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I feel strongly about this topic. It’s amazing how everything we do as parents is under a microscope.
I hope you’re having a nice weekend!
I love the connection you’ve made between my-way-is-the-best-and-only-way parenting advice and book banning. 🙂
I couldn’t agree with you more on this topic.
Thank you! I wish people would stop trying to impose their personal views on everyone else.
I totally agree! I haven’t even had a kid and people already are giving me advice..bluergh !
Isn’t it annoying?! I can’t believe people have the audacity to meddle like that. If my parenting style is harming someone (actual harm, not ambiguous harm), then I would want to know. Otherwise, how I’m raising my children isn’t their business!
Reblogged this on Tiffany's Non-Blog and commented:
It is so rare to see actual substance in a blog, but The Misfortune of Knowing always delivers 🙂
Thank you for the kind words about my blog and for reblogging this post!
A valuable post. I especially like how you said this:
If the mere exposure to new ideas is enough for those old beliefs to crumble, then its proponents should stop to consider why their beliefs aren’t more persuasive. In my opinion, an idea that can’t withstand a fair debate isn’t an idea worth passing onto the next generation.
I agree that those of us who wish to see a public sphere of respectful debate, rather than authoritarian dictates, need to continue to advocate for this openness of ideas.
I’m glad you liked the post! I feel strongly about this issue. It’s great so many people raise awareness about censorship during banned books week, but I think the legal context is sometimes missing from these discussions. Thanks for your comment!
Your post title immediately raised my attention and my hackles. I have learned that no matter what we pretend to see or not see in the world around us there still remains variance and alterity. In second grade my youngest daughter was exposed to a porn magazine some of the boys in her class were circulating among them. It made the innocence of Babette Cole’s Momma Laid an Egg seem exceedingly safe for a second grade student after that… and I was ever so thankful that she had already encountered a kinder, more loving introduction to the world of adult mating before seeing Playboy. Children are exposed to the adult world more than we know, and acknowledging this as a truth of life can lead the way to some compassionate discussions with our children about the realities they will encounter. Denial is part of the shame parcel, a way of suggesting that our kids aren’t worthy of being initiated into the mysteries of life, thus not worthy of belonging to our human communities. This was a great post.
Thank you! You raise interesting points. Your comment reminds me of the time I found copies of Playboy as a kindergartener in one friend’s guest bathroom (it was one of the many magazines piled up next to the toilet!). Then, in first grade, a different friend and I came across several boxes of pornography (not Playboy) in her attic. We were playing in that room, probably without permission (I can’t remember now). It definitely puts age appropriate books addressing those subjects into perspective.
Your comment also reminds me of a post I wrote on Adam Rex’s “Pssst!,” a cute children’s book about the zoo that one Amazon reviewer claimed was “lewd” and “unsuitable for small children”: https://misfortuneofknowing.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/is-the-childrens-book-adorable-or-lewd-and-unsuitable-for-small-children/
It is in people’s nature to meddle I think. They would be best just ‘working’ on their own kids. Too many of them lets kids do whatever they want. I agree with Ike’s statement, “Can’t believe the religion of diversity is allowed, but the religion of traditional values is not.” What happened to values?
Hi Donna! It does seem like it’s just in people’s nature to meddle. It’s such an annoying trait! As for Ike, I don’t think that “the religion of traditional values” isn’t allowed. People are free to believe what they want. They are also free to avoid books from the library that counter those beliefs. What I don’t think they should be permitted to do, though, is require that everyone else avoid those books. Have a great weekend!
The entire country is being dictated to by small but LOUD disparate groups of people who want everyone to live and believe exactly as they do. It’s disheartening. Worse, it they succeed, it will destroy diversity of thought and ideas.
Speaking of something closer to home… like many children, I was raised in a particular faith, that of my parents. When I was in my teens, I asked to attend services other than my own. I wanted to see how they did it. In a very short time, I realized none of them made sense and began the process of breaking away.
Exposure to other people, other religions, other ways of life stimulates the brain, makes you think, helps you figure out who you are and where you fit in. Attending other religious services helped me see things differently, and eventually, I became atheist, but that same experience for someone else might only strengthen their beliefs. I used religion as an example, but examining anything more closely can lead to unexpected and rewarding breakthroughs in personal growth. I wish more parents encouraged their children to think.
Well said! The exposure to new ideas is important for developing critical thinking skills, refining what we believe, and accepting others who are different from us.
People seem to think that the First Amendment’s protection of speech/expression is inconsistent with its protection of freedom of religion. I disagree. People don’t have to read books they don’t want to read, and if they must (for school, for example), nothing forces them to stop believing what their religion has taught them. I also think there is often middle ground on many issues.