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Banned Books B.S.



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So I kept hearing about books being banned on Twitter. So I went to Google News and typed “banned books” into the search engine in the hope of finding out what the fuss was. The first result was a piece for the Guardian* by a leftwing blogger Amanda Marcotte. The item is titled “The Tea Party moves to ban books.” You have to wade through a lot of throat clearing and irrelevant nonsense, until you get to the relevant nonsense. She writes:

 

One measure of how emboldened the religious right is at any point in time is looking at book challenges and censorship in local schools. Interfering with the intellectual empowerment of minors is right up there on the priority list with raising the teenage pregnancy rate to produce a constant flow of examples to point to when wailing on about the wages of sin. And censorship attempts have already seen a lot of success this year, according to the American Library Association:

Last month ThinkProgress reported that a Missouri high school had banned Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel Slaughterhouse Five because religious residents complained that it taught principles contrary to the Bible. Now the American Library Association reports that this year alone, US schools have banned more than 20 books and faced more than 50 other challenges, with many more expected this fall as school starts …While parents have traditionally launched the lion’s share of challenges, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, an attorney with the association, says she has noticed “an uptick in organised efforts” to remove books from public and school libraries.

So I followed the links backward. The link seemingly to the American Library Association (a group constantly trying to justify its existence by casting itself as some sort of front-line organization for freedom) actually doesn’t go to the American Library Association, but to… ThinkProgress.  Where I found these paragraphs which follow the one Marcotte posted above:

The library association says the number of reported challenges in the past 30 years has hovered between about 400 or 500, but there are many bans they never learn about. While parents have traditionally launched the lion’s share of challenges, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, an attorney with the association, says she has noticed “an uptick in organized efforts” to remove books from public and school libraries.

The top reasons for challenges are sexually explicit content, offensive language and violence. “That’s not what our kids should be reading and learning,” Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of America, told USA Today.

The four links in those two graphs are to two USA Today articles, one of which is headlined, “Book battles heat up over censorship vs. selection in school.”  The actual article, however, reports that:

 The number of book challenges, usually initiated by parents, fluctuates yearly, says library association spokeswoman Jennifer Petersen. Reported challenges have declined from 513 in 2008 to 348 last year, but Petersen says there are many that her group never learns about.

So, in other words since the rise of the Tea Parties the number of “banned books” has actually gone down (not counting, of course,  the incidents that the “group never learns about” which are no doubt legion). Neither USA Today story has anything whatsoever to say about the Tea Parties. And the second one titled, “Those challenging books find strength in numbers” is mostly about the apparently new controversy over risque content in advance placement testing. There’s also this caveat:

Sex is not always the primary concern. A Seattle high school recently dropped Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World from its 10th-grade required reading list after a parent objected to the book’s depiction of American Indians as savages.

So leaving aside that I’m sure it’s not just conservative parents who are opposed to inappropriate sexual content being taught to their children, at least some of these “bans” are driven by leftwing PC nonsense.

There’s also the simple problem that cutting a book from a recommended reading list or removing it from a school library is not censorship, not even remotely. I’d probably disagree with some of the efforts to remove certain books from library shelves or reading lists. For instance,  I think most school libraries would be improved by having copies of Slaughterhouse Five and Brave New World on the shelves. Of course, most schools aren’t banning or censoring them, the sweeping trend represented by one Missouri school notwithstanding. And even when these books are cut from reading lists or removed from libraries that doesn’t automatically mean they’re being banned or censored. If they are, then most books ever written are banned and censored because most schools don’t carry them or require kids to read them.

In short books aren’t being banned, but even by the stupid definition of banned books being used they’re being banned less and to the extent they are being banned it’s not entirely thanks to rightwingers, never mind tea partiers, who’ve got nothing to do with any of this.

In other words, go back to what you were doing. There’s nothing to see here.

*Update: Yikes! My apologies to the Telegraph. An earlier version of this post attributed Marcotte’s post to them, not The Guardian where it appeared. I’ve fixed this in the text above.



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