Friday, March 19, 2010

The State of Censorship

Book challenges continue in Wisconsin's public schools, according to an article in this morning's Fond Du Lac ReporterPaint Me Like I Am is an anthology of poems written as part of a writing project for at-risk teens. One poem in the anthology, Diary of an Abusive Stepfather, raised the hackles of a parent who found its "vulgar language" objectionable. This is the same poem that a Vineland, NJ, school principal physically ripped out of his school's copy of the anthology last year (an undamaged copy has since been placed in that school's library).  In the North Fond du Lac school district, a committee has been formed to review the book and make a recommendation to the school district.

In the nearby Fond du Lac school district, another challenge is further along. A parent who brought a challenge to seven books is now appealing the decision of a review committee to keep a copy of One of those Hideous Books where the Mother Dies. The other six books in this challenge are still under consideration, the parent having added them later to the initial challenge. An archived article from the Fond Du Lac Reporter shows that the late additions included Sonya Sones' What My Mother Doesn't Know, Julie Halpern's Get Well Soon, and four books by Ann Brashares: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood, and Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood.  

One must, of course, allow a parent to make choices about what his or her own child may read. It remains mystery, however, why such personal choices are so often translated into removing or restricting access to a book, thus imposing one individual's opinions on everyone else. A deeper mystery is the refusal of the challengers to learn from the challenge process. More often than not, a committee reviews the challenged book and votes to retain it. This should make it clear to the challenger that perceptions of the book's suitability vary. A challenger could, at this point, acknowledge the diversity of opinions and take personal responsibility for managing her or his own choices about reading material. But what happens is often the opposite, with the challenger becoming indignant and continuing the challenge. What is revealed here is the challenger's presumption that his or her opinion is somehow privileged over the opinions of others, that it represents a moral absolute. It is a failure of civility.


  1. I have often wondered if there is such thing as an "acceptable i.e. Jesus-approved" reading list. If there is, I would love to know the age groups that are recommended for each book.

  2. I've never heard of quite that, although there might be one out there I don't know about. There are any number of websites that do the opposite: telling parents what books not to let their kids read. A number of general booksellers and reviewers give age ratings for books, and don't always agree with each other. I suspect the age ratings of more restrictive groups would put anything more provocative than The Littlest Mermaid into the Adults Only category.

  3. PABBIS has a list that's the opposite of that, a list of books that "may or may not be appropriate for your child," doesn't that include every book out there?

    It includes Charlotte's Web and The Bible.