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Book censorship in school libraries continues to increase. A Texas school district pulled 41 titles from its shelves, including the Bible, for further review. Missouri passed a law making any text containing “visual representations” of “graphic material” illegal to have in schools. This has resulted in many graphic novels being removed. Some groups, including Moms for Liberty, have suggested giving books a rating system like movies. Julia Rittenberg explains in detail why this is not possible. Kelly Jensen reports extensively on censorship news in the United States each week. I check what’s going on weekly to stay up to date when the books in my library are inevitably challenged and possibly banned. It’s important that I keep up to date on what has been mislabeled as the “culture wars” of book bans.
This got me thinking: What would a school library look like if it had no books that could be considered offensive? What kind of books would be removed and what books could remain safe?
Obviously religious books would have to be removed so as not to offend observers of other religions and pacifists. In addition, many religious texts are crammed with “imagery” unsuitable for school library shelves. There are instances of incest and polygamy in the Bible. Both profoundly unsuitable for children to read about. In addition, there are vivid descriptions of violence. For example, a story in the Old Testament describes how a woman killed a man in his sleep by driving a tent pole through his temple and pinning him to the ground. This story directly follows an account of 10,000 warriors who slew an entire people in battle without sparing a single soul. Similarly, the Qur’an suggests that its followers capture and kill all unbelievers unless they pray to Allah, repent and pay zakah part of their savings.
Likewise, fantasy books would have no place in a school library. Most fantasies involve magic or some form of witchcraft. Definitely not okay if it offends those who don’t believe in magic or think witchcraft is evil. These books often turn violent as well. They can be full of epic battles, subterfuges and spies. There are dragons and quests. It is inappropriate to imply the existence of mythical beings or to encourage children to undertake adventures that might lead them to question authority or learn about themselves.
Inspiring young people to develop critical thinking is dangerous territory. As they begin to think critically, they may learn to contradict what they have been taught. This offends countless parents, religious groups, authority figures and educators. Better go ahead and take out all the coming of age stories and books about learning independence. This removes most of the young adult, middle school, and children’s realistic fiction.
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Teaching kids to think for themselves might make them think about their feelings, which might make them want to pick up YA romance. Romances contain sexually explicit material such as kissing and consensual sexual acts between people. This contradicts the policy of many states for pure abstinence education. It is better to refrain from talking about sexual and romantic urges, especially romantic feelings between two people of the same sex. If books with LGBTQ+ appearance stories and stories about LGBTQ+ happiness are allowed in the library, it could instill in students who identify as LGBTQ+ the idea that all people deserve love and happiness. This is offensive to those who disagree with LGBTQ+ people’s “lifestyle choices” and leads many librarians to dub “groomers” for leaving these books on the shelves. Likewise, we cannot have stories of black joy, Latino hope, indigenous well-being, or Asian happiness. This might make some readers of these stories uncomfortable.
Horror and thriller are out of the question. Too violent, too bloody, too much abuse. It doesn’t matter if there are children who have experienced violence or abuse themselves and might want to read about others who have had the same experience. It’s insulting. Some argue that allowing children to have these experiences through a book helps them develop empathy. That it gives them a safe place to experience the macabre and follow scenarios to their worst possible outcomes. Yes, they have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex that doesn’t let them fully understand the consequences of their actions. Letting them read books about possible consequences will only give them ideas rather than satisfying their curiosity. Sorry, not worth the risk.
So the classics! They should definitely be kept on the shelf to allow access to true literature. Not so fast. Books like The Great Gatsby and The Scarlet Letter contain adultery. The Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies teach insolence. 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 teach readers to question society itself. We cannot have children questioning our constitution or traditional systems that have existed and functioned for hundreds of years, even when those systems are imperfect and need improvement.
Non-fiction books need to be safe. Facts are facts. Remember, collections of essays are non-fiction. Works like Thick and Trick Mirror are non-fiction and absolutely offensive. They talk about topics like racism, sexism and classism. Topics that will make many readers and their parents uncomfortable. Okay, so maybe not essay collections, but certainly science and non-fiction books. Don’t forget the Flat Earthers and Creationists. Some conspiracy theorists are offended by nonfiction books full of “facts” that can be “proved” on the shelves.
Reference is the only remaining section. Wait a minute, that’s suspicious too. Children can look up any offensive word in the dictionary or thesaurus to learn what it means. This is not acceptable. Some people don’t want their kids to know what words like “transgender,” “dissident,” or “pussy” mean. None of this is certain.
Then what remains? As far as I can tell there is only furniture left in the library. It’s a place to meet, but certainly not to talk about something controversial. There are some bookmarks left and maybe the school manual. Furthermore? Not much. Take away anything that can be considered offensive and you’re left with nothing.
Libraries are for everyone. This does not mean that every book is intended for every person. Recognize yourself and your family. Look at books that align with your family’s values. Don’t tell others what their children can read. You can argue with another parent at your school about what is appropriate or inappropriate and that’s where it ends.
Tolerance is not acceptance. Without tolerance, there are no books on the shelves, not even the ones you want your child to read. The completely harmless school library does not exist. You must raise your own children the way you want them to be raised. Give them tools and a critical, inquisitive mind so they can find the truth for themselves. If you give them what they need to find out the truth, they will find it. Children have a unique ability to break through BS to find out what’s really important. You do it with people all the time. Don’t underestimate them and don’t think that they can’t do it with books because they can.