The idiots are at it again. I’m talking about the folks who will go to any lengths to stop us from thinking. Who are passing bills to prevent us from hearing the true stories that might make us question their unearned power and privilege. These are the same folks that made it illegal for enslaved people in the chattel slavery days to learn how to read, that burned books in Germany, that banned books in U.S. school districts. Yesterday, I received a plea to sign a petition to the Tennessee School Board, as follows:
In middle school, my mom encouraged me to read a groundbreaking book called "Maus." It’s a graphic novel that told the story of how the author’s own father had survived Nazi concentration camps. Because it was a graphic novel, and because of the powerful storytelling, it was easy to understand and helped me learn about what my family members had gone through. Since it was published 30 years ago, countless children and teenagers have learned about the Holocaust through "Maus." So I was shocked to learn that a school board in Tennessee has banned this important book for 8th graders.
Sigh. Conservative state governors are racing with each other to see who can shut down schools teaching our actual history the fastest. It’s an epidemic of censorship in the land of free speech and yet another vote for calamity in the race between education and catastrophe, another attempt to elevate ignorance to the same level as knowledge.
There is a tiny bit of relief to know that such idiocy has always been with us and the power of good literature and freedom to read has mostly prevailed. Yesterday, a friend posted a thumbnail history of attempts made (and succeeded in the short run) to ban certain landmarks of children’s literature. Good for a laugh if it wasn’t so depressingly true that it happened. Some examples:
•Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle appeared on the banned books list in January 2010 thanks to the Texas Board of Education. Author Bill Martin Jr. happens to have the same name as an obscure Marxist theorist, and no one "bothered" to see if they were the same person.
•Charlie & the Chocolate Factory: A Colorado library put this book in a locked reference collection because a librarian thought the tale of Charlie Bucket and his tour of a candy factory embraced a "poor philosophy of life."
•Charlotte’s Web: A parents group in Kansas decided that any book featuring two talking animals must be the work of the devil, and so had E.B. White's 1952 work barred from classrooms. The group's central complaint was that humans are the highest level of God's creation, as shown by, they said, the fact we're "the only creatures that can communicate vocally. Showing lower life forms with human abilities is sacrilegious and disrespectful to God."
•Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, chronicles the tragic experience of a Jewish family in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, where the 13-year-old and her family hid until they were caught and sent to concentration camps in August 1944. The book has been challenged numerous times for sexually explicit passages, and, in 1983, the Alabama State Textbook Committee called for rejecting the book because it was "a real downer."
•Dictionaries: Both American Heritage and Merriam Webster have been banned in various libraries and schools. In 1987, for example, the Anchorage School Board banned the American Heritage Dictionary for its "objectionable" entries — particularly slang words, including "bed," "knocker," and "balls."
•Harriet the Spy: Louise Fitzhugh's well-loved tale of a girl who spies on her friends and has to face the consequences was banned because it was said to set a bad example for children, supposedly encouraging them to spy, lie, and swear.
•James & The Giant Peach: Roald Dahl's fantastical novel about a boy escaping his miserable life with his aunts by entering a magical, house-sized peach has repeatedly been banned because it contains the word "ass." Other schools bristled at the fact that James and the Giant Peach mentions snuff, tobacco, and whiskey. In Wisconsin in 1999, the book was banned because of concerns the spider licking its lips could be interpreted as sexual.
•Little Red Riding Hood: The fairy tale of a little girl who is led astray by a wolf while on the way to her grandmother's house was banned by two California school districts because one of the refreshments that little Red Riding Hood was carrying to her grandmother was wine.
•The Lorax: Beloved children's author Dr. Seuss took a stand for the environment in 1971 with The Lorax, which describes the destruction of an imagined forest of woolly Truffula trees. The narrator chops down the trees to use their foliage to knit clothing. While some readers may have been offended by the book's use of the word "stupid," it was the logging industry that was insulted by the anti-deforesting plot line.
•Tarzan: All Tarzan books were banned in Los Angeles, in 1929 because Tarzan was living in the jungle with Jane without being married. The books were likewise pulled from the shelves of the public library in the- appropriately named- town of Tarzana , California, in the 1930s.
•Twelfth Night: Shakespeare offended school authorities in Merrimack, New Hampshire, with a tale of a girl who washes ashore after a shipwreck, disguises herself as a page, and falls in love with her male master. That jolly cross-dressing and fake-same-sex romance was deemed in violation of the district's "prohibition of alternative lifestyle instruction," and copies of the play were pulled from schools.
•Where’s Waldo: Martin Hanford's books have met controversy in Michigan and New York when a sunbathing woman’s exposed breast was noted.
•Wizard of Oz: Frank L. Baum's classic story came under fire for its perceived socialist values, but it was also banned because it described witches as good – as in Glinda, the Good Witch of the South. In Detroit, it was banned from the libraries for having "no value" for children and supporting "negativism."
If I was on the censorship team, I would have included The Little House, a tale of anti-urban development, Alice in Wonderland, clearly written by someone on LSD, Peter Rabbit, promoting theft and trespassing, The Grinch, with its obvious anti-consumer message. The Ugly Duckling, with its cross-species implications and so many more.
But the one book that slipped through the censors in their campaign to protect our children from harmful literature, a book filled with sanctioned violence, sex, anti-capitalism, peacenik propaganda, prostitution, alcohol in sacred places, body mutilation and more, is the perhaps the most dangerous of all.
It’s called The Bible.
Come on, governors, get to work!