It is a very interesting time to be an aspiring writer in southwest Missouri.
As you may have heard there has been a rash of book banning at schools in the towns of Republic and Stockton MO.
The various social networks have exploded with condemnation towards the schools, the school boards, and the people who are challenging the books.
So what is my opinion?
I love censorship. Don't stop reading yet, I do have a point to make.
Censorship is an important part of a functioning society. Consider what would happen if publishers did not censor the manuscripts that they received. We would be buried in terrible books and publishers would go out of business.
On the legal side, if you could advocated the violent death of the president of the United States the police would be so busy responding to threats that crime and anarchy would be the order of the day. Censorship has a purpose, and when it is appropriately applied by rational people it can be a valuable tool to maintain a healthy society.
However, I believe that censorship has very little place in the vast majority of American life, and perhaps the least appropriate place for censorship is in education.
The point of education is to expose people to a variety of ideas and teach them how to learn how to think for themselves. When you remove books from the marketplace of ideas that people are exposed to you limit the potential of those students to succeed in our society.
In the case in Stockton MO, a book that advocated doing whatever you can to try to succeed in life was banned because it accurately reflected the thoughts and actions of most teenage boys. In Stockton not only was the book removed from the classroom, it was removed from the school library. This is an example of censorship gone wrong, and I think that it is am egregious violation of the spirit of the first amendment.
The more recent case in Republic MO is even more troubling. A Missouri State professor has challenged three books in the school district. Slaughterhouse Five and Speak are part of the school curriculum, and Twenty Boy Summer is part of the school library collection.
Currently Slaughterhouse Five has been removed from the curriculum. Speak is being reviewed but is still being taught.
Here are the questions on this issue:
Does Mr. Scroggins have a right to challenge these books?
Yes. Mr. Scroggins is a tax payer in the Republic school district and even though his children attend private school he does have a right to challenge the books.
Does the school board have to remove a challenged book?
No. A school board is not required by law to remove a challenged book.
So what is the problem? By exercising his right to challenge the books in a school curriculum he is trampling the rights of the parents and students of the district. I could understand his attempt at proactive parenting if he was merely trying to protect his kids, however his kids are not enrolled in the public school district. That means that he is trying to push his beliefs off on everyone else. I could accept his argument if he was fighting to give the kids in a district a choice in the curriculum. (Having been previously trapped in a curriculum I was not ready for I would have benefited from having an alternative.) But instead he is fighting to remove choice from the curriculum.
Books and ideas are meant to be consumed as part of the marketplace of ideas and the public discourse. If you want to shelter your children from engaging in the culture around them that is your right, but do not tell me what my children can and cannot be exposed to.
The worst part of this challenge is that the books in question are so valuable. Slaughterhouse Five is an anti-war novel. Speak is a novel about about how to learn to survive after rape and how to speak out. Twenty Boy Summer is about how to deal with loss and grief and the negative consequences of rash emotional decisions.
Each of these authors have had the bravery to write about terrible things to try to help teenagers cope with very real problems.
Perhaps worst of all is that he cloaks his attacks in the mantle of Christianity. What he is doing is the farthest thing from what true Christians would do. Christianity teaches that people should not judge others and that people should live life free from fear. Christianity teaches compassion and understanding, which these three books represent to many teenagers who read them. Do not lump the rest of us Christians in with Mr. Scroggins, he does not speak for me.
Thank you Ms. Anderson for writing a book that deals with such a terrible issue. Thank you for having the courage to support those girls who needed someone, anyone to help them.
Thank you Ms. Ockler for writing a book that helps teens deal with loss and grief. Thank you for taking the time to show them the consequences of destructive decisions so that they can hopefully avoid making the same mistakes.
Thank you Mr. Vonnegut for taking a stand.
And to Mr. Scroggins, remember it is your right to shelter yourself and your children, but please do not repress the rights of others due to a moral repugnance to certain aspects of everyday life. I fear that the "evils" that you chase away may leave a space in which true evil can flourish.