Sunday, February 20, 2011

Book Banning

I never thought that I would have to write letters against book banning in my own community, but this is the second time within six months that I have had to voice my objections. I stand firmly against book banning in my professional world and in my family life.

Dear School Board Members:

I am writing to once again express my dismay and to object to the removal of a book from the high school curriculum. After reading about the pulling of "Water for Elephants" from a high school intercession program in the local paper and after reviewing the offending passage online, I am concerned about the education this public school system is setting up for my elementary school student. "Water for Elephants," like "Nickel and Dimed," is a best-selling book for which a place in the curriculum easily can be argued. As I wrote in my first email to you in December, it is vital that our kids are given the opportunity to read as much as they possibly can. By the time boys and girls are teenagers, we are (or should be) preparing them to deal with the realities of the world and not sheltering them as we did when they were elementary school students. Great literature has always described sex, war, poverty, religion and other subjects that some may find objectionable. Such books give us a broad scope of the world to increase our understanding of the activities of mankind so that we may make well-informed decisions grounded in knowledge of diversity. It is a parent's job to discuss things they consider objectionable with their children and it is the school's job to introduce materials that make students think.

Please stop removing books from the curriculum, aborting our teachers' capacity to broaden our kids' horizons. Please stop curtailing my child's right to read.

Melissa Mannon


  1. Very well said. Have you shared your experience with the folks at the American Library Association? Or perhaps suggested that the school celebrate Banned Books Week, which would perhaps educate the school board and the parent community?

  2. Erica - I did fill out a form with ALA notifying them of the book banning. I have not gone farther than that yet.

  3. Here are two responses that I received from the local school board to my letter:

    1. Melissa,

    The teachers of the intersession decided to withdraw the book as they didn't
    want to go through the challenge process.

    The administration will be working on solid guidelines for book selections.
    Then, if a book is challenged, they will be able to clearly point to why it
    was selected and its benefits.

    I appreciate your email. It is very helpful for the board to hear many view

    2. Hello Melissa,
    Thanks for your comments. We are receiving messages from our citizens on both sides of this issue. I think we can tighten up the process a bit around material that does requires parental consent. I'd hope we continue to find the best material possible that is academically relevant, challenging, but not polarizing.

    Thanks for your e-mail.

  4. Warning!!! Previously approved content for Bedford High School students follows. If filmed, this would be x-rated. "Oh God, she's putting the head of my penis in her mouth." The Nashua Telegraph would not print evidence of the level of depravity in Water. Instead, they provided a "safe" passage about "lovemaking." While I am not afraid of the idea of sex, I object to a public school, at public expense, giving pronography in the guise of literature to the students.

    If you believe that nothing should ever be removed from a school, would you still feel that way if the age of the circus prostitute--who publically masturbates for a crowd of cheering Johns--was changed down to eight?

    If you would reject such a book, you stand with me, though we may disagree as to what is appropriate for children. If not, why not?

    Dennis Taylor
    Bedford, NH

  5. I am a bit disappointed, but not surprised, that none of you, not even the host, has attempted to answer my question. I can only believe that you have not done so in order to protect your public image. If you agree with me that some books may be removed from classroom use, you would obviously object to child porn in school. If you believe that no book should ever be censored, you are stuck having to defend the placement of child porn into the hands of students. So, I ask you all, which is it? Can we remove books that have patently offensive scenes or can we not? Clearly, if child porn is out, we have established the right and necessity of removing books that are offensive. We have not, however, agreed on the level of offense necessary for removal. We could then debate that next.

    Dennis Taylor

  6. Mr. Taylor:

    I've written my point of view above, so I did not feel that I needed to re-iterate it.

    What I feel about the book is irrelevant. I do not want you or anyone else to stand as the book police in a democratic / free-thinking society. If I have a problem with a book offered in school, I would ask for my child to be given an alternative or I would discuss my concerns directly with her.

    I have no desire to "debate" you. I've expressed my point of view and you have expressed yours.

  7. So, I take it that you would not sign a permission slip for a book with child pornography, but you would silently allow such material to be given to kids at our school.

    For you, no child porn equals thought police action. How about Penthouse in the school? How about Mein Kampf taught from a sympathetic point of view.

    Nope, we have to allow these positions in the schools, lest we diminish the rights of the children to hear these alternative points of view.

    I had expected a nuanced viewpoint in which somethings are allowable at school and some not.

    For you, "anything goes."

    Dennis Taylor

  8. Who decides the nuances?...I will not debate you.
    You've said what you wanted to say. I will give you no more space here.

  9. When my daughters turn 18 and are no longer living under my roof, what they read and what they watch will be entirely their choice. What they choose to discuss with me and other trusted adults about what they read and what they watch will also be entirely their choice. Before that time, I have opportunities to encourage them to value the ideas I treasure and to recognize when ideas can lead to harm. I want them to learn at schools that will expose them to a variety of challenging ideas and divergent opinions. Around the dinner table we discuss what happened at school that day and my husband and I have the opportunity to ask questions and share our own thoughts.

    When other parents cause a book to be banned from the public school curriculum, it does not protect my child. It limits my opportunities to discuss difficult concepts with my child while she struggles to understand them with her teen-aged peers.

    Would I sign a permission slip allowing my high school aged child to read a book with child pornography? Yes. Would there be excellent discussions around the dinner table about child pornography before and during the time in which that was covered in my daughter's high school class. Absolutely.

  10. > Part 1 of 2 <

    Mr. Taylor:

    Ah, the perennial question of where we set the boundaries of our much cherished freedoms.

    Does living in a free society mean that we are always free to do and say whatever we want? No, of course not. As a society, we understand that freedom must have limits, yet we must also acknowledge that we should be most careful when setting those limits or we risk going too far, curtailing too much.

    To cite the oft used example, we do not allow folks to scream "fire" in a crowded building when there is no actual fire. This is a case where one citizen's right to speak freely could physically harm his or her fellow citizens in the ensuing panic. Or, more broadly stated, an individual's freedoms are bounded the moment they cause harm or impede the freedom of another individual.

    The second common boundary we erect is to protect our young people at times in their lives when they cannot critically think for themselves. We do not allow very young children to see or read things with graphic violence and sexual content. Educators, sociologists, and developmental psychologists know very young children are incapable of handling these mature themes.

    Once we leave the domain of these boundaries, it becomes harder and harder to find and define clear guidelines. Who among us would we pick to make those choices? A censor may block things you would like censored today. That same authority may also prevent something you value tomorrow, and there's the rub.

    When our founding fathers spoke of the "price" of freedom, they did not just mean bearing arms to defend it. The cost of freedom that we must bear together is putting up with ideas that some of us may find unpalatable. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to approve what is said.

    There was a time when suggesting the earth was round, that the sun revolved around the earth, and that people should be free to choose their leaders were all heretical ideas. Personally, I am thankful that those ideas were challenged. I am not suggesting, of course, that all heretical ideas have merit. The trouble is, at the time, most of us don't know which heretical ideas are worth listening to. (Nor am I suggesting that Penthouse is in the same league with the ideas I list above, but that's not the point.)


  11. > Part 2 of 2 <
    The books in question were presented in high school, the very age at which we know young adults are capable of critical thinking. This is precisely the age at which they must begin to develop those skills, for soon they will be out of our sheltering arms. Our children grow up and we can not shield their minds from ugliness, cruelty, and depravity forever. What better time to begin that questioning process than when they are still under our care?

    Frankly, I would rather start the conversation about pornography WITH them than leave them to answer the question alone. In your example of a younger circus prostitute, I would relish the opportunity to express how abhorrent I found that situation.

    We have not talked about "Nickel and Dimed" yet, but one of the objections was that it questioned capitalism. As an entrepreneur, I have very strong feelings about the many benefits of capitalism. I am not prepared to say, with my limited human capacities, that it is a perfect system. Nor am I prepared to say that future generations may not develop some improvements. However, what I am prepared to do, is have that conversation with my children.

    Here's my question for you, Mr. Taylor. Just how much faith do you have in your own beliefs and ideas? Is your notion of decency on such shaky mental ground that it will crumble in the face of a few words? Are the values you've instilled in your children—values I may or may not agree with, but which I will defend your right to share with your children—so fragile that a few phrases (and the mental images they conjure up) are enough to destroy them?

    I think you give our teachers and books too much credit. I think you underestimate the power of your own values. In my experience, a belief that is questioned often weathers that challenge stronger and more robust precisely because it survived the challenge. If your beliefs are unable to stand the challenge from a handful of words, than it may be time to rethink some of your own positions.

    Simply put, banning books, even when I do not like their content, is a bad idea, as long as distribution is to folks old enough to think critically and no one is harmed. As a matter of fact, I expect my school system to challenge my child. It is unrealistic to expect that I will agree with every challenge, but I am not raising sheep.

    I do not have all the answers, of this I am quite sure. That is another reason why I value an open marketplace of ideas over censorship. There is always the chance that I might learn something too.

    May you always be blessed with the courage of your convictions, the courage to listen to mine, and may you always be willing to challenge both.

    David Hudson
    Bedford, NH