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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Banning at Home

During Banned Books Week, I generally bore my FB friends to tears with my endless posts about the subject. I'm not sorry. It's important. And I'm constantly shocked by how many people don't know the kinds of books that get banned or that it still goes on today and in our own society.

As a former English teacher, I have strong feelings on the topic. I never censored what my students read in my own classroom. We read many banned books in our classes and I provided them with a wide variety of books for them to read on their own.

As a parent, I feel the same. Sure, there are books I dislike. There are concepts with which I disagree, subject matters I find unpleasant, but I will not ban books from my home. Should my son wish to read a book I find inappropriate, I'll discuss with him my feelings on the matter, let him choose from there, and, should he choose to read it still, discuss the matter further after he has read it. I just can't justify banning books.

Some years ago, it was brought to my attention that a homeschooling parent I knew banned Harry Potter in their home. The parent had never even read the books, but they heard, they feared, they went on to ban. More times than I can count over the years, I've encountered similar stories. Recently, I ran across a story about a mom who was appalled that her son had read the ever-so-graphically-sexual The Grapes of Wrath and was terribly distraught that her teenager was now tainted and scarred by that for life. She'll take a more careful look, from now on, at what she bans from her home.

Really? Where to begin? A) Mommy, your teen has long been thinking of sex without reading Steinbeck's tame version of it in classic literature. B) Keeping sex from your child doesn't keep sex from your child. We're humans. Sex is kind of part of us. C) I fear for the sexual health of your son or daughter, because if you're terrified of a sex scene in a book, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess you've not had frequent and open talks about sex with him or her, which will lead to nothing good in the long run.

I could go on and on about the sexual harm one is doing by banning this book and others like it, but I'd like to stick to the point at hand, which is banning books altogether, for whatever reason. I can't think of a better way to screw with a kid than to tell them that whatever they're thinking, whatever they're curious about, whatever they're interested in is wrong, bad, dirty, dangerous, and ugly. In fact, I think that's a pretty good way to drive them right to whatever you fear.

It seems to me that banning books is just another way to delude ourselves into believing we have some sort of control over something. However, we don't. Certainly, we don't have control over what another person thinks just because we've deprived them of reading and thinking on said readings for themselves. Removing sexual content from your bookshelf won't stop your kids from masturbating to, well, anything and everything. Removing books with unsavory language won't keep your kid from calling you an asshole in her journal. Removing all books about magic won't keep a child from using his imagination to fly outside of your bedroom window and change you into a cheese-eating rat in your sleep. We don't need books to teach us to do the things that are in us already. We do need books to help us learn about all aspects of life, because we can't possibly know all that is out there by ourselves, so that we can flesh out our ideas on our own, learn what we do and do not believe. The truth is, we don't get to control our kids any more than we do any other person aside from ourselves. Trying to do so will only drive us further apart from the person and end up a lesson in masochism.

Why not allow children to come to information honestly and draw conclusions from it on their own? That's scary, I know. I know that the possibility that my son might conclude that everything I've taught him goes against his own belief system is more than uncomfortable, but I would be even more uncomfortable knowing that my son is an automaton, spewing about only the ideas I've fed him or allowed him to contemplate, never really learning how he is in the process. So many aspects of parenting are frightening, but raising children who know only how to parrot someone else as opposed to stand tall on their own is perhaps the most frightening of all. Think of all the ramifications of the former.

My son is only four. He hasn't asked to read The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, so, no, I haven't encountered that conversation as of yet. He has asked to read Harry Potter, though. We talked about it beforehand and, as it turned out, he felt he wasn't quite ready for it, so we put it away for later. We're now onto the Bunnicula series. He's in love. Depending on how I read it, what tone and tempo I employ, it could be scary, so I keep that to a minimum at his request and we happily read together every night. We've already read some hotly contested books such as James and the Giant Peach, Where the Wild Things Are, The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Where's Waldo?, The Giving Tree, A Christmas Carol, and countless more.

We'll continue to read whatever we want until he no longer wishes to read together and then he's free to read what he wishes on his own, because, and repeat after me here, I do not control my child.

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