Book banning and the push to legislate thinking

Book banning is all the rage, especially here in Tennessee, and apparently Texas, where I lived for about 10 years.

It is a mind-boggling thing to me, but here we are with various groups and individuals attaching books, education, libraries, and more. All the name of…well, I’m not sure.

There’s a problem here. Book banning has intensely bad consequences, and I suspect that’s the point.

Book banning … thank goodness not

I hail from a little community that is outside the City of Bartlett, which is a suburban city bordering Memphis. At the time, 45 years ago, Bartlett was just a tiny speck on the map, and my community, Ellendale, was a speck on the speck.

banning books
Maus

This was the way things were in the 70s and even into the 80s in Ellendale.

Black kids and white kids had nothing to do with each other. We didn’t play together. I don’t remember playing organized youth league sports with any black kids. Heck, we had the white and the black Boy Scout troops. Didn’t go to the same churches. Very segregated.

The problem was that the kids in our neighborhood, several of them anyway, were very racist. More than once, I heard the proclamation that Dr. Martin Luther King was just a “trouble making nigger.” Briefly, in high school, I rode with a neighbor who would blare Charlie Daniels song “The South’s Gonna Do It Again.” He took the song as holy writ, and thankfully a good friend of mine got a car and I no longer had to ride to school in a jacked-up pick-up truck that sported multiple rebel flags.

Speaking of which, you couldn’t get away from it in Boy Scouts. There were a number of troops with a “Rebel Patrol” in their ranks. You’d see them at Camporee, wearing their uniforms but instead of the Scout hat, they wore the Johnny Reb gray hat. More than a couple used the Rebel flag as their patrol flag. Thankfully, my own Scoutmasters always vetoed any patrol’s effort to rename themselves to “Rebel.”

So What?

From a very young age, I took a monumental interest in two things: reading and history. Like many young boys, my interest in history focused at the time on wars.

Now in the 70s, there was no Internet and there were no channels, really. You can the three network and affiliates. No History Channel, so my history fix had to be met by reading. And read I did.

Early, I became infatuated with the romanticized view of the Confederacy. Noble warriors who were actually loyal Americans fighting for their homes and state’s rights.

The problem is the version is wrong. As I read and as I studied, I learned that fighting for “state’s rights” and for a “way of life” was about economics. And in the south, the economy was driven by slavery, by buying, selling, and owning humans. By treating an entire race as nothing more than cattle.

These noble Americans had turned on their country. They’d killed American soldiers. It’s not romantic.

It was reading, studying, and thinking that got me to that point. Reading. Studying. Thinking.

The key – reading

My parents are avid readers. It’s where I get it from. Like my parents, I read then and read now, a lot. And the reading is very diverse. Lord of the Rings one day, a non-fiction book on the Spanish Civil War the next, and John D. MacDonald after that.

I can only think of one book I was not encouraged to read. When I was young – not sure the age – I found a bag full of paperbacks in the attic. They were 60s and 70s era horror books and I brought one about witches down.

The problem is that book kept disappearing from my bedroom before I could read it. Someone didn’t want me reading it. Years later, while studying 70s horror and the link between witches and erotica in novels, I understood.

Like I’m sure my parents do, I oppose book banning. However, I reserve the right to limit, restrict, or encourage my daughters’ reading. There have been a couple books brought home from the school library that my ex-wife and I both felt were not appropriate for the children at that time.

As a parent, I can take into account the maturity levels of my three children and what I and their mom feel they can handle at this time. It’s called parenting.

I had a back and forth with a school librarian on Twitter a while back. He said, “show me a book a parent does not want a child to read and that is the book I’m putting in that child’s hands.”

Whoa!

A school librarian falls right into Mom’s for Liberty wacko talking points by taking away my right and responsibility as a parent. And not just taking it away. Circumventing and undermining it!

While I get that some parents don’t parent, I’m not sure that’s why we should engage in book banning.

Maus

The book Maus came under attack a few weeks ago. The McMinn County Board of Education decided to remove it from its 8th grade curriculum. The book was included as part of a state-approved 8th grade curriculum and Maus was the central study in a unit on The Holocaust.

It seems the problems revolve around a couple of things. First were a handful of curse words. A Forbes column by Natalie Wexler provides a good overview of the flap. There was a scene in which one of the characters was nude (and shown having committed suicide). By the way, the naked character is a mouse.

Unfortunately, McMinn County got caught in the crosshairs of an ongoing issue. The group Mom’s for Liberty has several chapters in Tennessee. You can get a feel for their roots and backing here. They succeeded in Tennessee in getting the juvenile novel “Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech removed from the curriculum and got the teaching of the classic children’s novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, changed somewhat in how it is taught.

The group wanted more books removed. These included:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington
  • Ruby Bridges Goes to School
  • The Story of Ruby Bridges
  • Separate is Never Equal

See a theme?

In the meantime, while all this is happening, country music “star” John Rich spoke before the state legislature comparing educators and school librarians to pedophiles. You may know him from his hit song “Save a Cowboy, Ride a Horse.” You know, a bastion of character and good upbringing. Here were his specific comments:

What’s the difference between a teacher, educator or librarian putting one of these books which you have on the desk of a student, or a guy in a white van pulling up at the edge of school when school lets out and saying, “Come on around, kids, let me read you this book and show you these pictures”? What’s the difference in those two scenarios? There is a difference, by the way — they can run away from the guy in the white van.

Nice. I can ignore that, but it bothers me that almost nobody in the Republican supermajority Tennessee Legislature spoke against him. This column in the Nashville Scene sums up my feelings. Do you think Mr. Rich will speak out against what’s in song lyrics? How about movies? TV shows? Has he watched Netflix lately?

I’ve touched on the subject of banning books before when I talked about my responsibility as a parent and what media my children consume. It is my responsibility and Moms for Liberty and other groups want to take that away from me.

Here’s how I can take them more seriously. Concerned about some “rough” words? About nudity? A child’s innocence? Fine.

Ban children’s use of cell phones.

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