Sunday, February 27, 2011

Continuing where I left off last time: I read that the mothers of America (and some fathers too I guess) are pressing schools more and more to withdraw books with bad language or sexual content. But should children's books be restricted in this way? The skirmishes evidently see concerned parents challenging books while other parents are fighting for the right of their children to go into their school library and pick up those very same books. The issue is being highlighted by the American Library Association during its Banned Books Week. 460 attempts to have a book withdrawn from a library or classroom were recorded in 2009. Part of the problem it would seem lies in the rise of young adult fiction that isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade.
More surprising to many people would be that established literary classics on the list of the 10 most challenged books include The Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple and even To Kill A Mockingbird. But with most challenged books, the issue is usually sex or sexuality though in one school even Harry Potter was banned because of the magic. It would seem that American parents are not so much worried about the loss of innocence as they are about the overcoming of ignorance. For example one book was banned because it describes a girl figuring out how to put in a tampon. There's a disparity between the US and UK. While in the US, formal challenges to books in school libraries are routine, they are most unusual in the UK. It is said to be an exaggeration to refer to this as book banning. There is nothing preventing books from being written or sold, nothing to prevent parents from buying or children from reading it, but not in schools!
In the US one struggle has been played out in the small town of Stockton, Missouri, over Sherman Alexie's book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” The work has won a National Book Award, but the story of a 14-year-old Native American on a poverty-stricken reservation, touched by tragedy, upset many parents in Stockton after they learned it was being used in lessons in the school. The opposition to the book was led by lawyer and parent Mike Holzknecht. “The book is just chock full of vulgarity, profanity, obscenity and sexual explicitness involving minors,” he says. “People around here, where it's pretty rural and conservative, they will go a long way, but this book was so far over the edge. It doesn't belong in a school.” After a number of meetings spread over several months, the book's opponents succeeded. The school board voted to withdraw the book from the curriculum and the school library.
Mr. Holzknecht accepts the book is a "nice story" but can't accept the language or the sexual explicitness. He moved his family to Stockton because he felt it was a place with good, shared values. “This is a community with the type of values that are consistent with the way we like to raise our children.”
The fundamental split is between those who think teachers should be able to challenge and engage children with edgy books, and those who think only the parents should be allowed to do that. And of course the net result of a battle over a book, like Stockton's, is that more children end up reading the suddenly controversial work and the author sells more books. Even Mr. Holzknecht has to admit he's purchased three copies. (why three I wonder?) The school boards are fooling themselves thinking that if they ban the book the kids aren't going to get hold of them. To kids, contraband is cool and obviously a banned book needs to be read to find out why.

1 comment:

Wolf Kern said...

Hi Glyn, thank you for mentioning the book of this part time indian, which has been translated and published in Germany too. And believe it or not, it has been recommended for reading in English school classes here! Another aspect that shows the world why Americans are so obsessed with sexuality...
I may get a copy too, but first I will have to obtain those books about a certain Thonton King ;-)