One of the most amusing library-related events of last week was a book banning in the town of Republic, Missouri after a resident “challenged the use of the books and lesson plans in Republic schools, arguing they teach principles contrary to the Bible.” Two books were removed from both the curriculum and the library.
It’s amusing on a couple of levels, especially because I don’t have to live in Republic. There’s the irony, of course, that someone in a town named Republic is arguing that the public school curriculum should be based on Christian principles rather than republican principles..
To be fair, the naming of Republic didn’t seem to have anything to do with republican principles. You can read a very boring history of the town on its website. You can also read the same boring history verbatim at Wikipedia. That’s got to be the worst Wikipedia page I’ve seen in a long time.
It’s even more amusing that the complainer is a university professor, since university professors don’t usually go around arguing about things based on the Bible, since “the Bible tells me so” isn’t exactly an argument stopper on university campuses.
Maybe a few literature classes would have taught him how to interpret literature, because from a diatribe he wrote in the local news about “filthy books” he doesn’t seem that familiar with the literary analysis.
Here’s his analysis of one of the books (and the one of the three he complained about that wasn’t dropped from the curriculum):
In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography.
One such book is called “Speak.” They also watch the movie. This is a book about a very dysfunctional family. Schoolteachers are losers, adults are losers and the cheerleading squad scores more than the football team. They have sex on Saturday night and then are goddesses at church on Sunday morning. The cheer squad also gets their group-rate abortions at prom time. As the main character in the book is alone with a boy who is touching her female parts, she makes the statement that this is what high school is supposed to feel like. The boy then rapes her on the next page. Actually, the book and movie both contain two rape scenes.
I have to admit that, unlike the complaining professor, I haven’t read “Speak.” However, based on the descriptions of the book at Amazon and Wikipedia and of the movie at IMDb, neither has the professor read the book. Oh, sure, he turned the pages and looked at the words, that’s not the same thing.
Maybe I have this wrong, but it sounds like a novel about a young girl who’s date-raped, and the negative consequences that come of it. It sounds like a dark book with a dark theme, but soft pornography?
I’ll leave it to readers of the book to tell me whether or not cheerleaders getting group-rate abortions is treated as lighthearted and fun, and whether the cheerleaders are presented as sympathetic characters. However, to read a book about a girl’s rape and its consequences and then to focus on everything but that theme is strange. Highlighting the naughty bits and equating rape scenes with sex scenes is a bad way to read a book.
His reading of Slaughterhouse Five isn’t any better.
Another book I haven’t read supposedly “glorifies drunken teen parties, where teen girls lose their clothes in games of strip beer pong. In this book, drunken teens also end up on the beach, where they use their condoms to have sex.”
I have no comment about the appropriateness of the book for teens or anyone else, but for some reason that last clause cracked me up: “where they use their condoms to have sex.” It’s an awkward phrase, but as someone who once upon a time attended drunken teen parties, “using their condoms to have sex” is probably a best case scenario, and definitely better than date rape and alcohol poisoning.
In the diatribe, he says he “confronted the school board with these issues at the June school board meeting” but “nothing has been done to address these issues to date. This is unacceptable, considering that most of the school board members and administrators claim to be Christian. How can Christian men and women expose children to such immorality?”
You might think from that paragraph that that he was talking about something other than a public school. Books that glorify drunken teen sex might be inappropriate for all sorts of reasons, but Christianity is irrelevant.
On the other hand, some of his critics aren’t particularly relevant. In cases like this, there’s always someone talking about sex in the Bible. One commenter claims “your bible contains more sex and violence than ANYTHING Vonnegut ever wrote. Does that biblical incest wet your whistle?”
Probably the most famous and unpleasant incest scene in the Bible is in Genesis 19, where Lot’s two daughters get him drunk so they can have sex with him. However, it’ not exactly a pro-incest scene, just as “Speak” isn’t a pro-rape book. It’s just a reversal of the same mentality as the complaining professor, that the presence of sex itself has a meaning outside of the context of the book.
This is why so many book challengers look like simpletons. It’s because they read books so badly, and make their arguments based on keywords rather than literary meaning, except for the ones that just hate homosexuals.
The school board took a different approach to banning the books from the curriculum and the library. They set up a committee to create standards for age-appropriateness. The superintendent claimed that “We very clearly stayed out of discussion about moral issues. Our discussions from the get-go were age-appropriateness.”
That’s being disingenuous. Questions of age-appropriateness are always moral questions. The ALA response to challenged books is so annoying because it fails to acknowledge this as well. For the ALA, every book is appropriate for every reader, regardless of the book or the age. That’s the only possible interpretation of a policy that advocates fighting every book challenge, regardless of the reasoning.
Both simplistic challengers like the complaining professor and equally simplistic defenders like the ALA ignore all the subtlety in the debate, which is that there are moral and immoral books, and how they’re used and taught and read by people of various ages really matters. The oversimplification of the issue by both the ALA and most book challengers turns what should be a complicated debate into a farce.