In Jill's Words

I dedicate this site to my mother. She was a columnist and an author with the uncanny ability to find humor in the daily ins and outs of life. She faced every challenge with a witty optimism, including the cancer that ended her life too soon.

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Location: Boise, Idaho, United States

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Shall We Burn Some Books?

I am not a fan of censorship. I am not a fan of discouraging children of any age from reading. Unless you have been living under a rock the last couple of weeks (in the Treasure Valley, that is), you have probably heard about the controversy surrounding Sherman Alexie's The Absolute Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It has been pulled from the Meridian Schools curriculum, and the district will be reviewing more than two hundred books on its supplemental reading list.

The claim, of course, is that it's pornographic because that is how we educators roll. We love to expose children to pornography. Haven't you read the Common Core Standards? That's the ultimate goal, people.

But seriously folks, if we public school teachers really wanted to teach pornography, we would just hand your kids copies of Playboy or Penthouse and say, "Just read the articles, dude."

If I were king of the world, I would ban anything by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. I see more of a problem with people (children and adults) being influenced by that conspiratorial, hate-mongering rhetoric than reading a few passages about masturbation.

But I would not stop my (very fictional) children from reading super right-wing, conservative authors because the same principle applies. Censorship sucks, and a well-rounded education means you look at many perspectives, you learn about many cultures, and you experience art and aestheticism from several angles, not just the ones certain people define as morally responsible (whatever that means).

I know what you're thinking, "But Becky, you are a Baptist preacher's kid. How did you come to have such a loosey-goosey philosophy on education and life?"

Here's a shocker: Not every Christian household tries to shelter their children. Some Christians still believe the public school system (with all of its ungodly secularism) is worthwhile. That's how I was raised.

My mother and father were avid readers of all kinds of literature. My mother, with a mischievous glimmer in her eye, handed me a copy of The Catcher in the Rye when I was twelve. She insisted I read Judy Blume books so that I could learn about my burgeoning hormones. Occasionally, I would hear about books that had been banned from school libraries (usually from my mother—she just wanted me to read). Guess who would go check them out right away? This girl!

I'm still that way.

A few years ago, a bunch of Christians organized a boycott of the movie The Golden Compass and of the fantasy series His Dark Materials because of its atheist author and—gasp—thematic material that might be considered anti-Christian in some circles. Guess who purchased the books for her husband's birthday that year? This girl!

The Rediscovered Bookshop of Boise recently posted this on Facebook: "Censorship is lame, which is why we're fully stocked on all sorts of Sherman Alexie here at Rediscovered. Grow your brains and read freely, Boise!" My reaction? "Heck yeah!"

Alexie is in good company. Other books that have been challenged in schools throughout the years include To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Catch-22, The Lord of the Rings, A Separate Peace, The Awakening, and Green Eggs and Ham. (I'm not kidding about this last one—on accounts of "homosexual seduction.")

"At least they are not burning the books, like in Fahrenheit 451," Dan, my husband, said of this recent controversy, "or like Hitler, where they would have those big book-burnings," he paused, "like in Indiana Jones."

"You're getting your history from sci-fi and fantasy again," I said. "Besides, book-burning is the next step."

"It's a slippery slope . . ."

It seems to me that the people who are so quick to defend their rights (You can't take my guns! You can't invade my privacy! You can't force me to have health insurance!) are the same people who want to put a limit on free speech and artistic freedom.

If inundating children with pornographic material is not our intent as public school teachers, what are we trying to accomplish by exposing them to such heretical literature?

Here is one idea.

Maybe we want them to learn about art as a reflection of culture and society. But let's face it.  Sometimes culture and society are not so beautiful.

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