Book Banning May Be The Single Worst Idea of All Time

It’s Wrong to Begin With, and Never Stops with “Just” Book Banning

Better Late Than Never

We were going to talk about this over a week ago, but the Middle East demanded a change of focus. That obscene mess is certainly not over, and we likely will come back to it again, but life does not think much of doing one thing at a time.

So, while we worry about international affairs, let’s not loose focus on key domestic issues. And book banning is pretty darn high on that list that deserves our attention and our action.

History Speaks Clearly

I have always been struck (amazed, bemused, angered?) that people who favor banning books seem oblivious to the history of such actions. If there is a society that took on book banning vigorously and it turned out well, it certainly has escaped my search. As we will note shortly, other unhealthy actions inevitably follow book burning, but for starters, look at how it has started in history.

It always starts with those who want to shut out others, who want to isolate their potential opponents in politics or who are looking for an easy target in society. Book banning is part of an effort to control thinking. No democracy should tolerate that idea.

The Core Question

At the very heart of the decision to ban or not to ban is this core question: What is the purpose of education, both formal (schools) and informal (libraries)?

If you think the purpose is to reinforce your moral code, sorry to advise you are incorrect. Certainly, there is value in teaching things like civics, but using books and education to enforce a specific moral code is a shortcut to ignorance and dogma. Worried about morals and values? That is mostly your job as a parent, a parishioner, a citizen.

The primary purpose of education it to broaden the mind, to enlighten, to ensure that we all come to understand that the whole world is not exactly like the individual bubble we all live in. This requires access, encouragement even, into learning about a lot of stuff that one may ultimately disagree with or find uncomfortable. People who grow up in an intellectually restricted environment are woefully ill equipped to deal with an increasingly complex and integrated world. Reading only approved material assures a life of discontent and misunderstanding.

Arrogance and Insecurity

Why would someone foster such a restrictive mind set. If my personal experience is representative, and I believe it is (always a risky assumption), people seem to support banning for one of two reasons, often both reasons.

One is a remarkable level of cultural arrogance. Such a person or group is so sure that everything they believe is universally right, its only logical that everyone else should believe the same. If they don’t, well we will just force them, and they will eventually see the light. Gee, what could go wrong with that? That approach was popular with Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and similar folks who had power.

The other is a very high level of insecurity, a fear that everything they know and believe is under threat. Book bans are a futile effort to build a wall around their society. It seems logical when someone, say a Donald Trump, keeps telling you that your world is under siege, and you need to fight back. Don’t fight back by engagement, discussion, and debate; fight back by declaring “outside views” as immoral and dangerous, thus banned.

What to Expect From Book Banners

The number one thing to expect is that almost none of them have read any of the books, plays, articles, etc. that they seek to ban. Someone gave them a list and they are off to the races. Most don’t even know what said books are actually about or anything substantive about the content or the authors.

The second thing to expect is a world of discord and trouble fomented by a very small number of people. Such a small group is really empowered when state and local governments make it easy to challenge the availability of any book. Just fill out a simple form and the torture begins for educators and librarians.

Recent investigative reporting has highlighted this aspect of the problem. In Florida, over 1100 book ban requests have been filed, targeting 680 books by 480 authors. These complaints were filled in school districts supporting over 99% of Florida’s students. Over half of those documents were filed by two people.

A similar investigation nationwide indicates that less than a dozen people are the source of most such ban requests. They send out lists and talking points all over the country. The aforementioned afraid and/or arrogant pick up those lists, write local complaints and/or harass their school board. State legislators pick up on it and threaten to cut library funds should they dare to carry any books any of these folks dislike.

A third thing to expect is a reversal of language meaning. Just as Christian nationalists call for “religious freedom” to enable them to force their peculiar distortion of Christianity on everyone else through policies and curriculum, so it is with the book banners. They will call for “liberty,” meaning their freedom to dictate what others may read and learn. Mom’s for Liberty are NOT for liberty. Watch a video of them at a school board meeting and you will see what they are really supporting. It’s not liberty.

While We Are Banning, What Else Should We Do?

It never ends with book banning. Book burning is often a visible sign of further deterioration, but most advances are a lot more subtle, yet terribly destructive. Florida is a good example of this creeping disease. First, some books are banned. Then everything banned book authors wrote is banned. Then plays. Next, school curriculum. What the state of Florida wants taught about race, history, feminism, and more seems Orwellian.

The excuse for much of this? Talking of such things makes kids “uncomfortable.” Wimps. Kids deserve truth and a complex reality. And do we really want the state, government, to dictate what is taught? Look at places like Texas and see what kind of text books result.

Any Reasonable Issues on Book Suitability in All This?

Actually, yes. Reasonable people can agree on general guidelines of suitability of content by age, for example. Parents could have options to review assigned reading for their kids. But that is different than saying no one should have access in schools or libraries to books someone else does not like. Better to err on the side of liberty than restriction.

I am prepared to entrust what is available to professional librarians and educators. What an individual kid reads is a parent’s responsibility, not the state’s. Better a bit “too much” freedom than excessive censorship.

Why Should I Care? I Have No Kids in School, Don’t Use Library

This sort of thing shapes the society you and I live in. I have no kids in school, never did. Yet, I fully support paying for first rate schools and well paid educators. Without them, I live in a terminally dumb, narrow minded society. No thanks. This fight affects me directly and my country profoundly.

 What Next?

Two suggestions. One, go to a local school board meeting a couple of times a year. If you hear speakers spouting the evil of books, get your turn at the mic and make it clear those views are not yours and are not in the spirit of America. Thank those in government and education for looking out for the rest of us.

Two, spread the word of efforts others have mounted to stop this nonsense. Many communities have started banned book clubs. Some public libraries have books banned elsewhere available from them online, offered to anyone anywhere in the country. Bravo.

See You Next Week

I recently saw a t-shirt that cracked me up and saddened me as well. It read:
“STUDY HISTORY. Realize people have been this stupid for thousands of years.”

As we look at history, domestic issues, foreign affairs – and book banning – you have to acknowledge the t-shirt has a point. But hope springs eternal!

See you in a few days. Unless events force otherwise again, I have a happy story to share with you.

Bill Clontz (and Friend Bonnie)

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2 replies to Book Banning May Be The Single Worst Idea of All Time

  1. Bill, I totally agree! The concept of book banning has long been an issue causing me frustrations – I don’t comprehend why any reasonably sane person would choose to limit books. Although I consider myself a peaceful, not-easily-angered, person, book banning makes me extremely angry. I appreciate your shared comments, which I will pass forward, plus I like the photo of you and Bonnie.

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