Monday, October 20, 2008

In My Own Home Town, No Less

I really should pay more attention to what happens in my tiny (population: 750) hometown, but sometimes I miss things.

It seems that a local mother, Taffey Anderson, is upset because the high school library has a cartoon book entitled The Book of Bunny Suicides by Andy Riley. Her 13-year old son checked it out of the library and now she vows she will never return it, claiming that "it is not appropriate for children".

Now I might be upset the school district is spending its very limited funds on cartoon books instead of on the academic materials our rural students need, but that is another topic. This book was bought, cataloged, put on the shelves, and was made available to be checked out and read by students. Ms. Anderson certainly has the right to tell her son he cannot read or check out the book, but she has absolutely no business telling other families in the district that they cannot access it. That's called censorship, Ms. Anderson. The news article states that she contacted the high school principal who told her about the districts' book-challenge policy. Ms. Anderson plans to fill out the forms, according to the article,

...but she's not taking any chances. Once the review is over, regardless of the outcome, she plans to burn it (the book). "They're not getting this book back," she said, adding that if the library replaces it: "I'll have somebody else check it out and I'll keep that one. I'm just disgusted by the whole ordeal."

Here is a great opportunity for the school district to stress why we consider it important to make controversial books available in the library. It's called intellectual freedom. Americans have the freedom to borrow, and read library books, even controversial ones, even those some don't personally like or approve of. Ms. Anderson may be well intentioned and sincerely concerned about the welfare of the students in the district, but good intentions do not give her the right to determine what others may borrow or read or to decide for other parents what their children may read.

And the irony is that the inevitable result of trying to ban something is that far more people want to get hold of it than would ever have done if it were left alone.

A personal example: At Mass one Sunday, when I was twelve, the priest ranted against seeing a particular movie. It was "Splendor in the Grass". I had never heard of this movie, but you can bet I remembered the name of it and as soon as I possibly could, I went to see it. I have to wonder how many local high school students are now scouring the public libraries nearby to find a copy of this book, a book only a few students would have read if it hadn't been for the publicity Ms. Anderson brought to it.