Banned book highlights flaw in American psyche

BY KATIE KUNTZ | JUNE 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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Americans ban books from public schools for a great many silly reasons.

The Erie School District in Illinois banned a children's book filled with silly pictures, around 10 words per page, and bright colors called The Family Book, by Todd Parr. This book, it is argued, is too political, too "irreligious," and too homosexual. What makes this book so intolerable? you may ask yourself. It's that some families have two moms or two dads.

After a quick evaluation, it's clear to me that there aren't that many reasons Americans ban books, rather, only one. The one reason Americans join together to censor great works of literature is that parents and teachers don't want to examine their own beliefs that lead to difficult questions to answer. When students question the world in which they live, adults realize they are unable to confront certain topics themselves.

For example, Huckleberry Finn caused ongoing controversy because of the discussion of race, slavery, and interracial friendships and strife. It's a great book.

Another great book banned in many schools because it encourages a discussion of tough political topics with students — such as government interference and individual liberty, love, lies, and torture — is 1984, by George Orwell. Definitely worth a read if you're ready to start questioning your government.

Most of the books I listed above are really geared toward young adults (other than Harry Potter, which touches the hearts of people of all ages). The Erie School District, however, decided that banning books on the junior-high or high-school level just wasn't enough. It needed to reach those even younger to discourage acceptance, tolerance, and knowledge of "countercultures."

The book was introduced to the Erie School District because the district wanted to decrease the amount of reported bullying. So it introduced curriculum designed by the Gay-Lesbian-Straight Education Network to try to teach students tolerance and encourage a safe environment for all students — but then, enough was enough.

When the teachers started reading such things as "two moms or two dads," community moms and dads just wouldn't have it. So the book was banned in May, and despite the evidence showing that LGBT-inclusive curriculum can decrease the amount of bullying, the ban was upheld in a School Board meeting June 14.

This book itself is not controversial. No one denies that some families do have two moms or two dads. The controversy enters when the school encourages young students to think. The book lets young people consider other ideas and try to accept other lifestyles.

Books teach us things. Any student who goes to this university and ends up spending some $600 per semester on books only to celebrate selling them back for $75 can attest to that.

Great books teach us great things. Books such as 1984 teach us that if we don't watch out, then the rulers will. They will monitor our movements, track our correspondents, and take us out — like the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, signed on Jan. 1 by President Obama allows. Books such as Brave New World remind us that with enough drugs, we will become complacent with shallow, meaningless lives and ignore the issues around us, thereby losing our will to fight.

Then there are books such as The Family Book, which teach us that there is no one "right" way to make a family and that we should accept others and be happy with our own families.

It is a mistake for any school district to ban a book for no greater reason than "I don't want to talk about it." Especially given the importance of many of the banned books. That being said, as a writer, I can only hope that someday, people will try to ban my work, because then I'll know it really was important.

Congratulations, Todd Parr, on writing a book good enough to be banned.

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