Sunday, January 24, 2010

Misc updates
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Keep your narrow-mindedness to yourself

From the Parkville Luminary

Nothing makes my blood boil faster than self-righteous citizens trying to impose their puritan morality on the rest of us. Although this can manifest itself in many ways, the most insidious imposition is when the zealots attempt to force their narrow views in a public school setting, whether it’s shaping curriculum (evolution, for example), or banning “objectionable” books.

That’s why I’m proud of the North Kansas City school board, which voted 3-2 last month to keep a “controversial” (in the eyes of one parent) book on elementary library shelves.

The book in question, “And Tango Makes Three”, tells the story of two male penguins that raise a penguin chick together. An offended human parent urged the book be banned because it’s age-inappropriate and because “he said he thought the book tried to indoctrinate children about homosexuality.” (KC Star 12/23/09).

The use of the word indoctrinate is revealing. Does this mean that our children shouldn’t learn that, gasp, homosexuality exists? Or, is the objection to the tolerant message presented in the book? Whatever the objection, “And Tango Makes Three” has also been challenged in Virginia, Ohio, and California. (

Indeed, homosexual themes are one of the top reasons that books are challenged or banned in schools nationwide. For example, the award-winning novel “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker was recently challenged in North Carolina because parents were concerned about homosexuality (among other things) portrayed in the book. Those wishing to ban “King & King”, a fairy tale about a gay marriage, used the terms indoctrination and homosexual agenda in trying to get the book banned in Massachusetts. ( ). The mere use of the term “homosexual agenda” should set off alarm bells indicating intolerance, even bigotry. If there were a “homosexual agenda”, it would be no more threatening than demanding the same rights the rest of us have, including fair, non-discriminatory treatment.

Besides homosexuality, other themes embraced by book banners include profanity and sexual content. For example, a California school district recently voted to include “Speak” on its reading list, despite complaints that the book—which deals with a suicidal rape victim—is inappropriate. Kristi Rutz-Robbins, the board member who cast the sole dissenting vote, said, "rape victims, children who are emotionally and developmentally immature and those seriously interested in being prepared for college can stick to classics and other works without graphic rape scenes."
The author, Louise Anderson, shot back, “We don’t protect our teenagers by holding back information.” ( )
Indeed, it is the fear of information about gays, or sex (“Catcher in the Rye”), or about our shameful history of race relations (“Tom Sawyer” or “To Kill a Mockingbird”) that seems to drive the censors.

The Illinois Library Association said it most eloquently. “Frequently, (book) challenges are motivated by the desire to protect children. While the intent is commendable, this method of protection contains hazards far greater than exposure to the “evil” against which it is leveled. U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, in Texas v. Johnson, said, ‘If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.’ Individuals may restrict what they themselves or their children read, but they must not call on governmental or public agencies to prevent others from reading or seeing that material.” ( )

Rather than banning books, school districts should take the sensible step undertaken in North Kansas City. The school board decided that they elementary library card catalog will be placed online where parents can monitor materials in their child’s library and request any individual restrictions for their child. This way, the zealots can shield their children from reality while the rest of our kids read, and learn, about the real world around them—a world that is sometimes ugly, often vulgar, and always complicated.

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