It’s Banned Books Week, the time of year when: (1) I think about how lucky I am to live in a society with a Constitution that protects the right to share and to receive information, including in the form of books, and (2) I marvel at the audacity some people have to challenge this right by demanding that public libraries and schools remove “controversial” books from the shelves.
Lately, on this blog, we’ve been discussing a related topic, which Jancee Wright of Jancee’s Reading Journal put so well in her comment to my post, How Young Is Too Young To Read Gone With the Wind?:
“As a librarian, I’m inherently against censorship, and in favor of information being readily available, especially because some kids need to read harder material that reflects their lives. It’s an interesting juxtaposition – where’s the line with one’s own children?”
In that post, I discussed that “line” in my household. No books are prohibited—that’s a rule just asking to be broken—but there are some I’d prefer my children wait until they’re older to read. One of those books is Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gone With the Wind, which contains mature content, racist themes and language, and a mythological version of the Old South. It’s not a “children’s book” per se, but that hasn’t stopped a large number of people from reading it—or having it read to them—at young ages.
My reluctance to introduce GWTW to my own children is quite different from demanding that other people’s children not read it. I would never want a library to stop carrying it just because my child might check it out.
Nor do I think it’s the end of the world if my child does end up reading a book before I believe they’re ready. Most likely, they won’t understand it, and it’s just a waste of time that would’ve been better spent reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet instead of GWTW’s thousand-plus pages of Civil War and Reconstruction drama. At worst, they will pick up the racist language of Mitchell’s proud Confederate characters — a disturbing situation I’d rather avoid — but I can deal with it the same way I’ve dealt with the occasional curse word that exits their mouths.
Nor is it a problem if a child of mine reads a book that contains ideas with which I disagree (like GWTW’s portrayal of slavery and the Old South). In fact, I fully expect that will happen as part of growing up. My hope is that I’ve created an environment where my children will feel comfortable coming to me with questions about what they’re reading.
A child’s exposure to new ideas isn’t something to fear, but for some reason, far too many parents fear it. They fear it enough to not only prohibit certain books from ever entering their homes but also to demand the removal of those books from schools and libraries.
As I wrote in one of my favorite posts on this blog, Please Stop Parenting My Children:
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.
I look forward to discussing controversial topics with my children.* It will give me an opportunity to explain my perspective to them, and I may learn a thing or two (or more) from them in return.
*We do already have discussions about challenging topics (every family will have a different definition of what is “controversial”), but these conversations have been basic ones so far.