Essays

Won’t Somebody Please Think Of The Children

By posted at 9:48 am on May 27, 2006 7

Of all the things in this hectic world to keep kids away from, why books? Leslie Pinney, a school board member from District 214 (located in suburban Chicago), wanted to have the following books removed from the high school reading list because of their “inappropriate themes”:

To see just how twisted and depraved these people here, check out this entry at a Townhall site in support of Pinney, where someone has lifted the prurient parts from some of these books to prove that kids shouldn’t be reading them – labeling the books – in a blaring font – “pornographic.” What if the children find that site, though? Then they won’t even have to read the books to get to the juiciest parts! At any rate, I find it comical and depressing that people think we should keep books with foul language or “adult” themes out of the hands of high schoolers. Isn’t the classroom a better place for kids to learn the appropriate context for such things than other outlets?

Thankfully this “controversy” turned out to be little more than a tempest in a teakettle as the six other board members voted against Pinney. In fact it was heartening to hear how many people were moved to discuss the banning of the books. From the Tribune: “Board President Bill Dussling said the meeting’s turnout was the largest the district had seen in 25 years but evidently the issue struck chord within the community.” A number of students rallied against the proposed ban as well.

coverMeanwhile, at the Freakonomics blog, authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, followed the situation. Their book had made Pinney’s list because it proposes the theory that legalized abortion has reduced the nation’s crime rate. To mark the occasion, the Freakonomics guys are doing something pretty cool. They’re giving out 50 free copies of the book to the first 50 students from the district who respond to their offer, and in the end, it seems likely that more kids will read Freakonomics and the other books than if this closed-minded woman hadn’t proposed the ban.

On a semi-related note, I talked to some people at BEA about what helps books and authors get mentioned by the blogosphere. One big thing is for the author or book to have a compelling Web presence, and the Freakonomics blog is a great example. It has kept readers interested in the book, while also letting readers interact with the authors and giving bloggers something to link to.

Update: The fallout from the District 214 attempted book banning continues, as described in this morning’s Tribune. The pro-banning forces are vowing to press on with their efforts to get books removed from schools. Peter LaBarbera of the conservative Illinois Family Institute calls the 6-1 vote against the book banning “a Pyrrhic victory” (and presumably LaBarbera was able to learn about Pyrrhic victories because Plutarch’s Lives was not banned in his high school.) LaBarbera’s contention is that “thousands of parents, not just in Arlington Heights but statewide, have been alerted that there are some pretty racy books out there that are required reading,” and so now we can expect many more book-banning battles to arise. Luckily, though, this article also contains more accounts of students fighting for the right to have these books taught: “Some said it was unfair to judge a book on isolated passages. ‘You cannot ban an entire book if you take things out of context, if you’re not looking at a literary whole,’ said Christine Fish, a member of the Hersey High School debate team. The group passed out fliers reading ‘Fahrenheit 214,’ a play on the title of the Ray Bradbury novel about book burning.”

The kids, as they say, are alright.





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7 Responses to “Won’t Somebody Please Think Of The Children”

  1. danup
    at 2:55 pm on May 27, 2006

    They should remove The Perks… from the reading list because it's concentrated, derivative suck.

  2. Max
    at 3:13 pm on May 27, 2006

    Yeah, well I suppose the actually quality of the books isn't considered. These people only care whether or not the books are "appropriate."

  3. Stefanie
    at 6:59 am on May 28, 2006

    I just don't understand the whole book banning thing. Shouldn't people be more worried about what kids see on television and the movies and the viloent video games? It is heartening to hear the ban was not approved and so many people turned out to speak against it.

  4. Zacappa
    at 1:54 pm on May 28, 2006

    Scary developments you have in the US. I have put a post on zacappa.com -yes, with a link.

  5. SAND STORM
    at 11:50 pm on May 28, 2006

    I wonder if Leslie Pinney wears a "Brown Shirt" to these meetings?

  6. Robin Brande
    at 8:10 am on May 30, 2006

    Thank you for bringing this to everyone's attention. Often we don't get to hear about these things unless we live in the particular community dealing with them.

    Makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

  7. Half-Wit Theocracy
    at 8:54 pm on May 31, 2006

    Banning of books is the literary analog to the attempt to limit teaching evolutionary theory in schools. And then you wonder why the state of affairs is as it is in America.

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