Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Neverending story

One thing is certain: People just won’t stop trying to ban books and, more often than not, their efforts are wrongheaded at best. Sometimes it seems as if the United States is particularly active in book-banning struggles. Today I have another example.

There’s a town called Antioch in my home county in Illinois, Lake County. The summer reading program for Antioch High School included a book called The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, a coming-of-age tale of a 14-year-old Native American boy who leaves his reservation for an all-white school.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Jennifer Andersen, one of seven parents who attended a school board meeting to ask that the book be banned from the curriculum, said, "I can't imagine anyone finding this book appropriate for a 13- or 14-year-old. I have not met a single parent who is not shocked by this. This is not appropriate for our community."

The problem for Andersen was language: “I would love them to say, 'We don't condone this language in the schools and we feel this book … does not meet our standard.'” She said that despite obvious virtues, the book had language that "would not be allowed in school hallways… How can we look past the vulgarity?"

John Whitehurst, chairman of the school’s English department, said, "While there is graphic language, keep in mind that Arnold [the main character] uses this language to express his own feelings to himself or to exchange taunts with his best friend. He never uses this language in front of girls, to his family or to other adults, and he doesn't act on such thoughts. He is consistently polite."

Noting that the book has positive, life-affirming messages and an especially strong anti-alcohol message, Whitehurst said that it wasn’t true that assigning the book was condoning bad language. "That is like saying that because Romeo and Juliet committed teen suicide, we condone teen suicide. Kids know the difference. Like it or not, that is the way 14-year-old boys talk to each other."

The book-banning campaign seems especially idiotic when there was an alternative book available. So, it wasn’t just that prudish parents didn’t want their children to read the book—they didn’t want anyone’s children to read the book. What on earth makes them think they have the right to impose their morality on everyone else?

The school district refused to ban the book, but decided to set up a committee including parents to preview all books on the summer reading list. Sounds like a censorship board to me. If they don’t outright ban books, they may at least require “warning labels” as the parents had also demanded.

The “vulgar” book they wanted to ban won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and was named one of the Los Angeles Times' Favorite Children's Books of 2007 and New York Times' Notable Children's Books of 2007.


liminalD said...

Ack... Agh... Ick... Grrrr!!!!!

I can't even TELL you how much book-banning and its logical extension, book-burning, angers me.



Arthur Schenck said...

I'm with you! And I'll keep naming and shaming morons who are trying to ban books. People who try to ban books have a weird worldview to begin with, but the people in this case were especially moronic, since they had an alternative book to choose to keep their precious little darlings wrapped in cotton wool.

Another thing I do is go out of my way to read books that someone's trying to ban. It's kind of a civic duty!

liminalD said...

Yeah the logic of it is really dumb... trying to boycott or ban something is generally counter-productive: it creates interest and makes more people interested that would perhaps otherwise have been.

I'm reminded of a certain Father Ted episode...