Banning books is a nasty habit, whether it comes from the right or left

Banning books is a nasty habit, whether it comes from the right or left

Posted: Sep 17, 2021 9:11 PM
Updated: Sep 17, 2021 9:11 PM

Banning books is a bad American habit, and one we must break. The banning comes from every side of the political spectrum, left and right, and the practice is often dangerous. Free speech is fundamental to our democracy, the lifeblood of our educational system.

In recent days, we read about the all-White school board in York, Pa., which voted unanimously last October to ban several educational resources that fall into the category of "anti-racism." Teachers received the list of articles, books and videos last month, according to the Allentown daily, the Morning Call. It included, as CNN reported, a children's book about Rosa Parks, a memoir by Malala Yousafzai and a CNN town hall on race featuring Muppets from "Sesame Street."

This week, students protested the move outside the Central York High School, and at a virtual school board meeting Monday, students, parents and other community members debated the list.

School officials say the materials are not banned, just "frozen" while the board vets them. So far, this vetting has taken nearly a year, as CNN has reported. "Schools are not the place for politics or identity to be shaped," one mother who supports the ban declared.

She's wrong. Schools are precisely the place where politics and identity are shaped, and because of this, students need the widest array of materials to learn from, including those that offend censorious parents on the left as well as the right.

This summer, Texas officials tried to ban a book called "Forget the Alamo," a revisionist history of the 1836 battle at the fortress in San Antonio. In July, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick canceled a promotional event for the book at the Bullock State History Museum. About 300 people had planned to attend, according to The Texas Tribune. They were robbed of the opportunity to finally hear the truth about one of the most revered -- and baseless -- legends in Texas history.

"Forget the Alamo," by historians Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford, is an important corrective. Like most Baby Boomers, I grew up believing the wildly untruthful Disney version of the Battle of the Alamo, told through the eyes of Davy Crockett. We were led to believe that the battle was heroic.

It wasn't. The actual story, as we learn in the book, "is one of White American immigrants to Texas revolting in large part over Mexican attempts to end slavery. Far from heroically fighting for a noble cause, they fought to defend the most odious of practices."

Mexico abolished slavery in 1829, long before its neighbor to the north. Most Americans have been pretty much unaware of this history. If we don't know what really happened, we have no way of understanding the past. What we think is history is actually jingoistic, partisan fantasy.

Dan Patrick explained in a tweet why he could not tolerate "Forget the Alamo": "This fact-free rewriting of TX history has no place @BullockMuseum."

Chris Tomlinson shot back on Twitter: "Lt. Gov, Dan Patrick takes credit for oppressing free speech and policing thought in Texas," he wrote. "@BullockMuseum proves it is a propaganda outlet. As for his fact-free comment, well, a dozen professional historians disagree."

For some years, the American Library Association has published annual lists of the most "challenged" books. Most of them offend the self-righteous right, which can't bear that students should learn about America's history of racial oppression and bigotry, or read positive depictions of LGBTQ people, or witness the naked face of poverty and prejudice.

A fine book by Sherman Alexie, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," has been on the list of challenged books since it first appeared in 2007, largely because of its unflinching depiction of the lives of some American Indians. The magical novel "The Kite Runner," by Khaled Hosseini, has been banned because some parents seem to believe, rather ludicrously, that it promotes terrorism and Islam.

But banning books is not just the product of right-wing intolerance. Many liberal parents don't want their children to encounter the N-word anywhere, not even in what is in my view the greatest American novel, "Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain. And so they fight to ban a novel that eloquently and passionately attacks racism in 19th-century America.

"Of Mice and Men," an important short novel by John Steinbeck, is also frequently challenged because of its supposed racial stereotyping, even though it's a profound and humane book that raises issues every teenager should be asked to consider.

The popular SkippyJon Jones books by Judy Schachner -- a whimsical series about a flamboyant cat who dresses up as a chihuahua -- has also been on the condemned list. SkippyJon calls himself a "bandito" and sometimes puts an "o" at the end of English words to sound Mexican. Some liberal book banners call this stereotyping, and because Schachner isn't Mexican, they accuse her of "appropriating" things from a culture that isn't hers.

Book banning is a bipartisan game, a point nicely made by Jonathan Zimmerman, a self-described liberal who wrote in The Dallas Morning News: "When conservatives try to ban a book, we liberals get up in arms. But when the threat comes from our own side, we often sit on our hands."

Now, there may well be books so outrageously prejudiced or depraved or provocative that young minds should not have to encounter them. We can acknowledge this, but I am wary of this slippery slope.

I suspect the ill-effects of banning books will normally outweigh the dangers posed by allowing unpalatable materials into the classroom on rare occasions. And surely we must respect our teachers, giving them the freedom to find and use materials they deem important. If we can't trust them, the system is hopelessly broken.

I applaud the brave and eloquent students in York who have protested the banning of books in their school, including Central York High School senior Christina Ellis, who said at the virtual school board meeting on Monday: "I don't think a moral compass will let you ban books about equality and loving each other."

Students like Ellis are absolutely right to object to authoritarian attempts to control their worldview. Let's hope they're harbingers of protests to come. From coast to coast, the specter of book-banning has become a serious problem that threatens the very fiber of democracy.

It is of course exacerbated by the terrible partisanship that promotes group-think on both sides of the aisle. But without the free play of ideas and the liberty to read and talk about anything -- in classes or in public forums -- we become rigid, culturally ossified and worse. In other words, we're finished.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Terre Haute
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 50°
Robinson
Clear
49° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 46°
Indianapolis
Clear
49° wxIcon
Hi: 60° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 44°
Rockville
Clear
49° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 44°
Casey
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 50°
Brazil
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 50°
Marshall
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 50°
Sunny, Breezy & Much Cooler
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

Saturday: Sunny, breezy and much cooler. High: 62°

Image

Parke Heritage Fountain Central

Image

North Vermillion Wins a Close One Over Seeger

Image

Casey Dominates Marshall

Image

Vin Lincoln Jasper

Image

South Vermillion Cruises to Victory over Attica

Image

Linton South Putnam

Image

RP Covington

Image

Sullivan-West Vigo

Image

North Daviess-Springs Valley

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1665777

Reported Deaths: 27840
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook63126111168
DuPage1074651374
Will906981118
Lake795261076
Kane68004866
Winnebago40745559
Madison39883590
St. Clair36147591
McHenry34415322
Champaign26859196
Peoria26749368
Sangamon25613284
McLean22871216
Tazewell20525330
Rock Island18699358
Kankakee17795247
Kendall16104113
Macon15222250
LaSalle14954285
Vermilion14202198
Adams13072152
DeKalb12078133
Williamson11998174
Whiteside8247181
Jackson806594
Boone787583
Coles7843121
Ogle752487
Grundy731786
Franklin7276114
Knox7197169
Clinton7095102
Macoupin6893104
Marion6871143
Henry659876
Effingham655499
Jefferson6492142
Livingston594697
Stephenson577592
Woodford573592
Randolph552399
Christian530382
Monroe5236100
Fulton521674
Morgan503899
Logan492574
Montgomery487680
Lee476960
Bureau441189
Saline431769
Perry430375
Fayette428964
Iroquois418177
McDonough372360
Shelby343147
Jersey334253
Crawford330830
Lawrence329932
Douglas324737
Union305448
Wayne299961
White278533
Richland278457
Hancock271935
Clark264939
Cass264730
Pike262658
Clay257354
Edgar255249
Bond255024
Warren242765
Ford242259
Carroll235638
Moultrie228833
Johnson223831
Wabash216619
Jo Daviess214529
Massac213748
Mason211652
Washington211428
Greene204540
De Witt204230
Mercer202235
Piatt200614
Cumberland188526
Menard171013
Jasper160521
Marshall140921
Hamilton133322
Schuyler106410
Brown10589
Pulaski103711
Edwards102518
Stark80928
Gallatin7848
Alexander71312
Scott7116
Henderson69614
Calhoun6862
Hardin59416
Putnam5604
Pope5446
Unassigned1582433
Out of IL90

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 996341

Reported Deaths: 16245
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1343262101
Lake658231151
Allen57160791
Hamilton45963460
St. Joseph43954607
Elkhart35546503
Vanderburgh31975473
Tippecanoe27694256
Johnson24821440
Hendricks23647353
Porter22735362
Madison18538404
Clark18383248
Vigo17274300
Monroe15117197
LaPorte14987249
Delaware14931256
Howard14574286
Kosciusko12166147
Hancock11597175
Bartholomew11447179
Warrick11225188
Floyd10983214
Wayne10840248
Grant9898217
Morgan9361176
Boone8819115
Dubois8210129
Dearborn815492
Henry8107150
Noble7944106
Marshall7786134
Cass7462119
Lawrence7379168
Shelby7115114
Jackson691788
Gibson6480113
Harrison641591
Huntington630299
Knox6269105
DeKalb623796
Montgomery6184109
Miami586595
Putnam573477
Clinton567171
Whitley558055
Steuben550473
Wabash5250101
Jasper520475
Jefferson504695
Ripley492485
Adams472773
Daviess4596112
Scott433968
Greene421196
Wells419787
Clay418460
White414261
Decatur4118101
Fayette402186
Jennings383260
Posey374243
LaGrange352078
Washington352049
Randolph339999
Spencer336442
Fountain331858
Sullivan326652
Starke310868
Owen310169
Fulton304566
Orange290562
Jay278445
Perry264452
Franklin262742
Carroll258232
Rush257232
Vermillion254254
Parke229726
Pike227343
Tipton225659
Blackford187840
Pulaski181155
Crawford158122
Newton155648
Benton150117
Brown144047
Martin137319
Switzerland133911
Warren120116
Union106615
Ohio84012
Unassigned0532