Ban This Post!: Why Book Banning Makes Zero Sense

No, seriously: If this post upsets, frightens, or offends you, have it banned from your schools.  Have it blocked on the Internet at your public library.  Because one person’s personal offense to a topic is sufficient cause to prevent any other human being from accessing that topic, right?

…As you may have noticed, I’m experiencing a serious lack of patience with the banning-books crowd today.

...And how dare you illustrate this post with the cover of a children's book about SEX?!??!?

I got back to the banned-books topic this morning via this post by Diane Plumley at the Bookshop Blog, who is even more fed up with book-banning than I am. The latest book Ms. Plumley covers is Laurie Krasny Brown’s What’s the Big Secret?: Talking About Sex With Girls and Boys, which, like its predecessor pictured here, is a children’s book that discusses where babies come from. In other words, it talks about sex. (SEX!)

And, like all children’s books that talk about sex, at least one parent (this one in Oak Harbor, Washington) can’t deal with the idea that her kid might read about a natural biological function. Especially not at an age where said child is going to be more than curious about her own changing body – not to mention all that slang and snickering among her classmates.

(True Fact: I got my first copy of Peter Mayle’s Where Did I Come From? in KINDERGARTEN, which tells you exactly how little I was taught to be ashamed of Things Down There (down where…Perth?). Consequently, I have little patience for parents who freak out about genitalia-discussing books.)

My bias aside, however, I continue to be baffled by the concept of banning books from public libraries, including public school libraries. The parents in stories like the one above, or like the recent banning of Water for Elephants from a voluntary three-day high school reading course in New Hampshire, only confuse me. I cannot imagine believing that my personal misgivings about a book justify denying access to that book to everyone else in the community.

But then, to believe that, I suppose I would also have to believe that my personal misgivings are somehow more than personal; that what scares or upsets me is somehow fundamentally bad or scary in a way that automatically justifies its being denied to other people, regardless of whether or not other people are scared or upset by the material. And I don’t. I believe that neither my personal approval of, say, What’s the Big Secret? nor another parent’s personal disapproval carry any weight at all when it comes to answering the question, “Should this book be taken out of the school library so that no child or parent can read it?” The answer to that question can only be determined on the weight of supporting evidence each side presents – which itself weighs in favor of keeping the book on the shelves.

(Further True Fact: I was once an Ivy-League lawyer, which is relevant here only because I know, from direct and humiliating experience, that arguing about a text one hasn’t actually read is not only futile, but also a great way to make oneself look like a complete fool.  An argument focusing on why a particular book should or should not be banned can only be made by people who have actually read the book.)

In the end, I suppose what baffles me the most about the “controversy” of book banning is that the two sides aren’t equal. The side against book-banning says “We just want as much information as possible to be available should any member of the community want to access it.” The side for it says “Because some or maybe even all of us are deeply uncomfortable with this information, nobody should have access to it at all.”  I cannot but think that the second position is deeply self-centered – and dangerous.

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About Dani Alexis

Dani Alexis is the Legal Coordinator at Autonomous Press as well as a freelance writer. When she's not working, she coaches winterguard and waits on the whims of two spoiled cats. Check out her most recent work by subscribing to her Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/noncompliantspace.
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5 Responses to Ban This Post!: Why Book Banning Makes Zero Sense

  1. sarah says:

    Fifth grade? Ten years old? Aw, heck, I found my parents’ copies of “The Joy of Sex” and “More Joy of Sex” (now in COLOR! but still just as HAIRY!) when I was SEVEN! By 10 I knew the names of everything and how tab A was supposed to go into slot B, even though I knew I wasn’t at all ready to put my knowledge into practice (and guess what, that took THIRTEEN MORE YEARS, so much for learning about sex at an early age turning girls into sluts). If this naive hyperreactionary thinks her daughter doesn’t already know quite a bit about what grown-ups do in the dark of night…

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

    Seriously, though. Ms. Naive doesn’t want her kid reading that book? Fine. She can police her kid’s reading habits. Leave everyone else’s kids alone.

  2. See, I don’t think “where did I Come From?” should be banned, but I couldn’t ever have it in my house because when I was about three some bad people used that book to do some bad things to/with me, so I don’t think I could read it again without having a panic attack (I’m getting squicky feelings just seeing the cover up there) but it pisses me off that people want it banned from school libraries so no one else can ever read it, because if ANYONE has reason to hate that book I think I fucking qualify, and I don’t want it banned, so everyone else should just shut up.

    That reminds me that I need to find a good children’s book that talks about sex if I ever have kids (one that ISN’T “Where do I Come From?” because it’s that particular book that bothers me, not the idea of children learning about sex in an age-appropriate way).

  3. Dani Alexis says:

    Maybe What’s the Big Secret? for your currently-hypothetical kids? It seems to cover all the same information, but the layout, pictures, and text are totally different. It also addresses “good touching” and “bad touching” along with masturbation, which IIRC Where Do I Come From? didn’t.

    Also, I apologize for springing the picture on you. I was lucky enough to grow up loving that book, so it didn’t even occur to me that it might bother anyone else. (O hai privilege, I see u thar!)

  4. Dani Alexis says:

    I remember being in fifth grade, nine or ten years old (my birthday was during the school year). Mostly, I remember that dating and sex and everything that went with it (kissing, touching, etc.) was all the Big Embarrassing Taboo That We Must Nevertheless Bring Up At Every Turn, Because Our Hormones Are On the Rise and Our Brains Are In the Gutter. It was all giggling over words like “penis” and “vagina” and “masturbation,” along with half- or un-true discussions about how sex worked and how one could avoid getting pregnant (hot tubs, anyone?).

    I think any fifth-grader with a lick of sense would want to know how this stuff actually worked, instead of listening to confusing and contradictory information from kids who don’t actually know what they’re talking about. Personally, I’d be proud of my kid if he or she took the initiative to actually learn about his or her own body and what the facts were on this whole “sex” thing. (I would hope that I’d been having such conversations with my kid to date that s/he felt comfortable asking me any questions, but if not, seeking actual information would be a good second – or additional – option.)

    However, should there be some topic I didn’t think my kid could or should face, I’d leave a note with the school librarian and maybe the public children’s librarian as well – “[My kid] is not allowed to read any books about [topic], as I do not believe s/he is mature enough to deal with such information yet. Sincerely, [Me].” After all, part of a librarian’s purpose is to know how to guide readers to other books they might like or that deal with a topic differently or not at all. (Also, just try to get a librarian to STOP talking about books – there’s a reason this blog is called *Intractable* Bibliophilia, lol!) To me, demanding the book be removed is like trying to parent everyone else’s kids on the basis of what *my* kid can or can’t handle. I know my kid, but what do I know about what someone else’s kid can or can’t handle? Not much.

    /novel

  5. sun runner says:

    I, too, remember the “whisper bad words” game. For some reason “penis” was always the one that elicited the most laughter.

    Also, upon learning about the existence of what the kids these days call “buttsecks,” there was some debate about whether or not one could get pregnant from such a thing.

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