From time to time in society, folks come out of the woodwork who seek to limit the rights of others, usually on some kind of moral ground. Or they seek to banish those whose ideas they do not share. The impetus for these reactions is fear: we do not like what we do not understand or what is new and different. It threatens us.
Look at American politics today: those who participated in the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, were all in with violence toward those who disagreed. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for heresy. Socrates was killed for teaching people to think for themselves. Historical examples abound, such as the Salem witch trials. To this day, countries such as Egypt and Iran execute people who do not agree with the party line.
But even without such extremes, it is easy to see how, today, angry mobs shout at those who dare disagree–even at suburban school board meetings. Simple disagreements over policy become hateful tirades at those on the other side.
Sex as a topic is sure to bring out the book banners (if not burners).
Sex as a topic is sure to bring out the book burners. Are they afraid that high schoolers have no knowledge of or interest in sex except for these evil books, teaching them about things that have never entered their heads? As the president would say, “Come on, man!” And when the explicit subject is homosexuality or transsexuals, they go berserk. How dare you? This should only be taught at home! (Really? Do you think these parents actually discuss these topics with their kids?)
Here’s why we “dare”–as a society, as a school system, as a library: because we know there are students whose parents will not discuss the subject, whose beliefs castigate such things. Where does this leave questioning teens, who may be unsure about their own sexuality? They deserve to know there are others out there like them. They should learn what transsexualism is. Even if it were a “bad” thing, books on this subject cannot “turn your kids gay.” What they can do is show compassion and understanding for everyone, and teach young people to follow that lead. Knowledge itself is not dangerous; what is dangerous is its suppression.
[Why not] ban–or burn–all books that might offend someone. This would include the Bible, the Torah, the Qu’ran, all of which include sex and violence.
The Fairfax County School Board recently restored to library shelves books that had been removed for sexual content after examination, citing a “commitment to supporting diversity in literature.” School committees made up of administrators, librarians, parents, and students reviewed the books over the course of two months and unanimously found that they are appropriate for high schoolers and should remain available, commenting on the district’s “ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters. Both reviews concluded that the books were valuable in their potential to reach marginalized youth who may struggle to find relatable literary characters that reflect their personal journeys.” [Emphasis added.]
Pandering to such parents is right out of the right wing playbook. Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) wants his state to undertake a criminal probe of “pornography available in school libraries.” Why not go farther? Ban–or burn–all books that might offend someone. This would include the Bible, the Torah, the Qu’ran, all of which include sex and violence. (Interesting how many conservatives see the worst violence as preferable even to tender, loving sexual scenes.)
Discordance over these views fits into a larger pattern of openness, expansiveness, and trust versus closed-mindedness, contraction, and hate. In politics as elsewhere, over time, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.” And it encourages knowledge. Books contain information, something that is needed; no book should ever be banned. If it is unworthy, it will not sell. The marketplace can decide. Even books considered offensive by and to some groups have the right to be read, their arguments heard. Banning ideas, banning thought, is worse than the contents of any book.
More broadly, this means accepting others and their viewpoints as equal to us. If we abhor their views, make the case against them. We must have the humility to refrain from trying to make everyone in our own image, believing exactly what we believe. We have a long way to go before we get there.