It's Banned Books Week, the week when bloggers and teachers and librarians and so on bemoan attempts to ban classic literature (and sometimes less than classic literature) from our classrooms and libraries.
I'm not going to lie, Banned Books Week kind of gets me annoyed every year, for two main reasons, both of which I've probably mentioned before. One: "reading banned books" and wearing banned books jewelry and whatnot seems to make some people feel like they're actually doing something wicked and progressive. Are they? And are they just freaking out the reactionaries? Two: a lot of our objections, a lot of our shock, goes to the book challenges and the reasons for those challenges and how dare anyone try to challenge this book. But wait--isn't that any parent's right, to file a challenge? Isn't that why the schools and libraries have the system in place? Should we really object to parents exercising the right to show their opinion and displeasure? There's a difference between filing a complaint and actually going and stealing the books or coercing a librarian or principal to give them up (not that that doesn't happen sometimes). Hooray for parents taking an interest in education, even if we think it's a misplaced interest. Because what if disturbing material--say, history books with a distinct anti-immigrant or anti-Arabic bias--started creeping into our schools, and we didn't have any way of objecting? It's not like it hasn't happened before.
(In fact, it almost happened in my lifetime. When I was in eighth grade, Oregon had a ballot measure up that would have required schools to teach actively that homosexuality was abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse. 43.53% of Oregon voters voted "yes" to that in 1992. That isn't hyperbolic fear-mongering language. That's the actual text of the ballot measure. I was thirteen and my childhood probably would have ended that year anyway, but it was a profoundly scary time.)
Banned Books Week has taken on a new urgency this year that I actually share, though. The uproar over Obama's speech, Juliana Baggott's experience with a planned school visit, and Ellen Hopkins's canceled school visit are all disturbing things. This summer has been bad, and this fall may be beyond imagining--as far as lies and fear go. So I'm not just going to grumble and leave. I'm going to ask you that question I put as my post title: would you ever challenge a book?
It's easy to think "no, books are powerful learning tools, I would never be so ignorant". I'm not a parent, or a teacher, or a librarian, so my perspective is sort of detached and maybe not worth much. But to be honest? Yes, I would.
Go Ask Alice is my favorite example of the most-challenged-books. It's brought up frequently in discussion, maybe because so many people have read it. ALA says that Go Ask Alice has been challenged because it has drugs, offensive language, and sexually explicit content. I've got no issue with any of those things. Go for it. No, I'd challenge Go Ask Alice for sheer stupidity.
I've said it before: unless Go Ask Alice was being used as a cautionary tale about how authors and publishers can manipulate readers, yup. I might file a complaint if it was being used in my kid's classroom. Go Ask Alice tells lies about drug use that can be totally counter-productive. It's unrepentantly anti-gay. The writing is TERRIBLE. It claims to be a real diary, which it isn't. Why is it being used in ANY classroom? I would never, ever want it banned from the library, including the school library, or tell any kid they shouldn't read it (in fact, I'd want them to, so we could have a good laugh over it). But I think classroom time could be better used on other books, and to be honest, the idea of a teacher-sanctioned homophobic book makes me uncomfortable. (Are teachers addressing this aspect of the book? Do they even notice?) So I'd make a complaint, and mine would be added to the others on the ALA list.
A Child Called It? Amos Fortune, Free Man? The Girl Who Owned a City? Is there any book you might object to seeing in your kid's classroom, for any reason? Intellectual freedom is a more complicated concept than being A-OK with And Tango Makes Three.
Take a minute, this Banned Books Week, to consider whether you fall completely on the other side of the fence. And take a minute to be glad that we're allowed to challenge books.