And what we can do about it
This is the tail end of Banned Books Week. In honor of its 30th annivesary, I was going to list the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books from 2000-2009. Then, I realized everyone and their mother was already doing that.
Shortly after, I participated in a great twitter chat (#kidlitchat, 9 p.m. EST). Our topic? Banned books, of course! Mostly, we discussed how detrimental book banning is, and what might be done to stop it. Until now, I think the interactions (between ban and no-ban) have been very antagonistic–on both sides. Long legal fights ensue, ensuring that the right to read is a mine-strewn battleground.
But what if there were a better way to stop book banning? To turn our “enemies” into allies?
The roots of book-banning and censorship
Who in fact are the “book banners?” Many advocates against censorship posit that their opponents are small-minded, uneducated zealots. And I’m sure some of them are. But at heart, the majority are concerned teachers, librarians, parents, and school boards. One of the reasons they’re so passionate—and that book banning is so successful—is that they genuinely believe they are doing the right thing.
What’s the most dangerous creature in nature? A mother protecting her young. If that’s what these individuals (inaccurately) feel they’re doing, we must start addressing things from their perspective. Explaining away their misconceptions and dispelling their fears. Ignorance and fear are the enemy—not the individuals trying to ban books. Continuing to look at them that way only aggravates the situation.
What happens when you start arguing with someone? They become instantly defensive and shut down. It’s just human nature—heck, I do it myself! What happens when you have an open discussion instead? People become more receptive to exploring new ideas, new perspectives . . . and maybe even new books.
A better way to stop book-bans?
Perhaps we can help book-banners in a way that doesn’t involve screaming “FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND THE PRESS” and waving our flags in their faces. (Note: I’m not saying we don’t have the right to do this. Just that it might not be the most effective method).
Let’s convince censors that we’re not evil, God-smiting, sexually-depraved, America-hating Satanists out to “convert” their children. We care just as much about their kids’ learning experiences as they do. In fact, that’s why we want them to read “banned” books.
I advocate an approach that involves more collaboration, less confrontation. Ask book-banners what they’re afraid of. When they first saw/heard of/flipped through that banned book, what was their initial reaction? What kind of future do they want for their child? And how do they feel the book prevents that?
Then bring in experts. Child psychologists. Someone with a doctorate in education. Parents of kids who’ve read banned books and still grown up to be law-abiding citizens. Have the authors of the books explain why they wrote them, and what they hope kids will take away from them. Most importantly, why not have a few kids themselves speak? Like the ones who’ve read these books? They can describe what drew them to “the banned”—and how such reading enriched their lives.
Yes, we’ll still have to fight legal battles to keep these books on shelves. But in the meantime, let’s give community members some piece of mind. Peace of mind that they don’t have to let their kids read books the adults consider unsuitable (more’s the pity for those children, but that’s a whole other blog post).
All we really want to do is remind these parents, teachers, and school boards that kids benefit from having choices. And that’s what freedom of speech, the press, and banned books is all about. Offering choices. No one said the kids had to sample every one.
Am I being too idealistic and naïve here? Or could this approach actually work to stop book banning? Has anyone taken a similar stance before? Tell me in the comments!
(Top image by Mike Licht)