America's Book Banners Are Back in Force
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
On the website Parents Against Bad Books In Schools, some of the works deemed “sensitive, inappropriate and controversial” for K-12 students, even those who are college-bound or in advanced placement classes, include Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, Richard Wright’s Black Boy, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.
“Bad is not for us to determine,” says the disclaimer on the site. “Bad is what you determine is bad.” One of the purposes of PABBIS.org, the disclaimer goes on to say, is to “provide information related to bad books in schools.”
Of course, “bad” is a relative term, and one person’s obscenity is another person’s Pulitzer or Nobel Prize winner. Yet websites like PABBIS.org and Safelibraries.org have become the vanguard for a recent increase in organized attempts to ban books from public libraries and school curricula.
“There are organized groups on the internet whose purpose is to remove books from libraries because they believe they may be inappropriate for children,” says Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association. “Traditionally, when books are challenged, it’s usually a single parent. But we have found that groups are organizing around the principle that professional librarians don’t have the expertise, that they’re pushing porn on our kids.”
“Groups of parents are getting together and organizing in their communities to ban books,” adds Joan Bertin of the National Coalition Against Censorship. “I think what’s happening is once a book is challenged in one town, people on the same wavelength, it will flag that book for them. For example, we’ve seen three challenges to Sherman Alexie’s teen novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, all within the past three months, two in Missouri, one in Montana.”
Some other recent incidents:
• Self-identified members of the 9.12 Project, a conservative watchdog group launched by Glenn Beck, succeeded in removing Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology from a high school library in Burlington County, N.J., a Philadelphia suburb.
• A fight over l ibrary books featuring sex and homosexuality inflamed the town of West Bend, Wis., north of Milwaukee, and led four men to threaten to publicly burn Baby Be-Bop, a novel about a gay teenager.
• In Hillsborough County, Fla., which includes Tampa, parents objected to the inclusion of Augusten Burroughs’ memoir Running With Scissors on the suggested reading list of an English AP course. Out of nine high schools, two banned the book outright, and the other seven either required parental consent to read it or placed a “Mature Reader” label on the front cover.
“Books written for an adult audience are not frequently challenged,” says the ALA’s Caldwell-Stone. “The vast majority that are challenged are written for young people or provided to young people as part of an AP class. [Grounds include] profanity, sexually explicit, simply talking about having sex, or homosexuality. Books have been challenged simply because they had a homosexual character, and there was no sex in them. Unsuited to age group is a big complaint.”
“We have always seen a lot of challenges around sex,” Bertin adds. “Of course, gay and lesbian sex is even a hotter topic. Teenage sex is a big thing. And the sex issue ties in with religion, which goes by the code name of family values -- these are not the values we want to teach our children, we don’t want them to know about casual sexual activity.”
This is not to say that some of the most challenged perennials -- Huckleberry Finn ( long a favorite target of the left, which might be placated by a little Bowdlerization …), Beloved, the Harry Potter books -- aren’t still fighting off the censors.