Monday, September 27, 2010

Reading Culture: Censorship and Values

The lining of an old haori. I like to think of what I have in common
 with that reader; we are both members of the culture of books. 
The attempt to have books removed from library shelves feels like a back-to-school ritual. Books are challenged, of course, all year round, but things do seem to sizzle in the Autumn. It is part of a very real culture war, a clash between a culture that exalts books because they are the currency of ideas and a culture that reviles them for the same reason.

The attempt to control books is an attempt to control people.

It's that simple.

Slaves were forbidden to read, and the punishment for literacy was brutal. It was a matter of control. Acid is thrown on the faces of school girls in Afghanistan precisely because they are school girls who are learning to read. It is a matter of control

And when Dr. Wesley Scroggins challenged books he deemed "filthy" it was also a matter of control.

Given his misrepresentation of the books (Speak by Laurie Halse-Anderson, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut) Scroggins can't be characterized as a thoughtful, analytical reader. That is to be expected. Honestly, he didn't really need to read the books: There are sites where Toni Morrison's Beloved and James Welch's Fools Crow are reduced to a list of objectionable phrases, stripped of context.

And Scroggins is very comfortable making prejudicial decisions. In the same appeal to the school board, he demanded that science textbooks be withdrawn. Although he hasn't read them, he just knows they are bad.

"Although science and biology textbooks have not been reviewed at this point, the teaching of evolution in these texts is with doubt.  . . .  The Republic School Board should take the following actions:
     1) Discontinue the use of all textbooks and materials that teach evolution and exclude God as the creator of the universe and mankind."

Here is The Public Complaint filed by Dr. Wes Scroggins so you can read for yourself why he thinks these books, these ideas, and finally, people, should be controlled.

For my part, I think all sorts of books should be on the shelves, including books that celebrate faith and question science. It isn't my place to control what you read. It isn't my place to control you.

Click here to read the ALA Banned Books Week Proclamation
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