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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?