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In 1909, G.K. Chesterton wrote a response to a letter writer, concerned about fairy tales that exposed children to the evils of witchcraft:

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his/her first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his/her first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby had known the dragon intimately ever since he/she had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him/her is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Every now and then, cultural outrage reaches a critical mass and there is a demand to restrict access to books. We aren’t burning them….yet. Though in my town, a certain irate resident did, in fact, burn a few books that he found objectionable. Since the books were owned by the public library, he was fined.

As a historian, I can say that ‘objectionable’ books, and people’s outrage over said books happens with a fair amount of regularity. As a teacher, I can also vouch for parents who object to certain parts of the curriculum that are taught at schools. As a current resident of the US in the 21st century, I’ve also been reading about CRT and the Iowa legislature discussing bills that regulate what kind of curriculum is taught in social studies and history classes in Iowa. As a parent of school-age children, I endeavor to figure out the right amount of exposure and protection for my children. It is difficult to figure out what ideas to expose my children to and what ideas to modify, and what issues require more maturity and understanding. I’d like to think that even the most complex and difficult issues can be modified into a basic understand for younger kids, but I’m sure I don’t get it right all the time. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about all the difficulties inherent in teaching the Bible to young children. Sure, the story of Noah’s ark is fun with animals, rains, flooding and rainbows. But the story about Noah’s nakedness, and the subsequent cursing of Ham for laughing at his father’s nakedness, is generally not in children’s Bible stories.

Increasingly, parents are vocalizing their disapproval of libraries containing certain books and/or working to ban certain books from the curriculum. I find the objection to libraries containing certain books entirely puzzling. I love to read, and read a lot. But I can safely say that I have not read every book in the library. And I can safely say that I will not enjoy or like or approve of every book that I have ever read. But does that mean the library should not contain those books? Who gets to decide what books or concepts or ideas are acceptable and which are not?

The other part of this banning debate that confuses me is the parents. Do they object to the fact that these books exist? Or that they are available in libraries? Are they also banning Netflix or YouTube or Hulu or HBO for having shows with objectionable content? Most of the shows I watch I would not allow my little kids to watch with me, for a variety of reasons. Most of the books I read, I would not allow my little kids to read, either, for a variety of reasons. But those shows I watch and books I read are available. Why do some parents get to dictate what libraries carry or what schools teach? If they don’t want their child to read a certain book, I can understand that. But why should they dictate what any one is able to read?

I understand that parents are trying to protect and expose their kids in individualized ways, and I do the same thing, as a parent. What I don’t understand is why banning books in schools or libraries is the method and why the focus is on books and libraries and school curriculum and not on other mediums like film, television, social media, TikTok, YouTube, music videos, and the internet. There is plenty out there to enlighten, humanize, excite, inspire, encourage, and complicate our understanding of the world. There is plenty out there to harm, diminish, negate, ignore and hurt as well. That is not new, and will always exist. But is banning access the answer?

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Is part of the reason that people instinctively (and with some unacknowledged socio-political input) divide the cultural world into “public” and “private”? Thus, Netflix-for-kids (with its huge unstated commitment to neo-paganism) is “private”, and the local library is “public” (“the local public liberry”), and thus the cultural-political battle being fought right now all over the USA (and of late in Canada) is who gets to control the public arena. Does that help with your question?

  • Twila Finkelstein says:

    Dear Friends,

    This is also my opinion, as stated by the author, a teacher in Iowa. I’d take it a step further and challenge parents who are listing books they want banned.
    I’d ask;
    Have you personally read the books you want banned or are you going along with someone else’ opinion; going along with the crowd as in group-think? Are you swept up in a movement?
    Can you put into words and express why, specifically, you oppose each book on the list?
    Are you wanting to ban books for and by religions you do not have a personal belief in?
    If so, are you ok with banning the books that teach and promote your religion also?
    Assuming you are Christian, and remembering that there are other major religions in the country and in the world, are you ok with getting your religious books banned by someone who does not agree with you about God and your religion?
    What about the Bible? Remembering that individual humans often interrupt and misinterpret the Bible, should we remove and censor the portions of the Bible that speak of the very things that are the reasons you want to ban the topic in other published books?
    Should we remove the portions of the Bible that make us uncomfortable; challenge our conscience, our spirituality or cause us to question God?
    Do you know that being uncomfortable, being convicted of sin or wrong-doing is what leads to repentance, and repentance enhances our relationship with God and can bring about salvation?
    How can we witness to others if we cannot read or quote the words of Jesus from the Bible and talk about things that may make others uncomfortable?

    No physically and mentally healthy person can go through life without psychological discomfort. It is being uncomfortable about history, our personal history, all history as presented in the Bible, World history and U.S. history that is the motivator for change and the desire to never repeat the sins of our earthly ancestors. Knowing how, when, where and why wars broke out between countries and even breakups of friendships and division in families teaches us, if we pay attention, about living in a world with other human beings who have their own opinions, personal beliefs and emotional responses based on their personal history, thoughts, emotions and responses to happenings in their life so far.

    God had His chosen people memorize the stories and pass them down through the generations for a reason. God had Mary ponder the life and words of Jesus in her heart. God inspired the writers of the books in the Bible to preserve them for a reason. Being uncomfortable, having our emotions challenged is necessary for all human growth into adulthood and showing us our need for God’s grace.

    Be careful what you ask for or demand of others.


  • Fred Mueller says:

    In one of towns where I served a church (upstate NY) the elementary school my kids attended had a Bible on the shelves. You know where it was? The REFERENCE section! I loved that! If you wanted to know the truth or facts go to the reference section of the library and look it up – in the Bible!

  • Pamela Spiertz Adams says:

    Rebecca, I think there is fear in people seeing the truth about what we white people did to Black people. When you read Black history books you read of the outrageous things that were done to creatures oF God. My reading has helped change my opinion on the voting process and has opened my eyes to the sins of our culture. It is extremely vile to consider the many things white people have done to the lives of people who were created by our heavenly Father. Our nation should be in a state of mourning for our sins.

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