Letter from the Editor

Thursday, April 24, 2008

But Ma, I was only readin'!

Back in the day, a high school kid faced dire straits for getting caught with a Playboy under the mattress. Had we not been protected, why, a whole generation of us would be wandering around today believing females come with staples in their belly buttons.

Forget that, though; these days, it's the schoolbooks themselves that get a young reader into hot water.

You may recall Ann Elmborg, a language arts facilitator in Cedar Falls, yanking that edgy, subversive, dangerous text known as "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," from the eighth grade curriculum.

This just beats out, just by the length of a disapprovingly furrowed brow, Carroll Superintendent Rob Cordes' attempt to kill the book "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" from a high school literature-to-film class following a parent's complaint on a single racy passage. He had not read the book at the time.

In Missouri Valley, Superintendent Tom Micek said the book "Whale Talk" was temporarily barred and would go to a committee to see if it would be pulled from sophomore English students. "I understand there is profane language in the book," he said. The book is about a 17-year-old boy coming to grips with his multicultural heritage. Crazy stuff.

For these kind of school leaders, who are willing to assume for themselves the power to determine what ideas young minds can and cannot be exposed to, we can only thank... um, thank... well, we can't thank the "G" Word, because that wouldn't meet the political correctness doctrine in our public schools either.

Still, raise your Bic lighter high, we must honor the people who are prepared to toss out any book that someone, anyone, might not entirely agree with. One chapter, one word that gets someone riled, out she goes. It will be a much safer world when all students have left to read from in class are... well, perhaps a book or two about kittens, or flowers, maybe a phone directory or Betty Crocker cookbook?

"Gilbert Grape" had a scene with a mature theme to it. Can't have that. As we are certain, no high school upperclassman is yet aware that sexuality exists.

One citizen reportedly compared it to "Penthouse" magazine [never mind how they know] and proclaimed that it would encourage "fornication."

Just like reading the Guinness Book of World Records encourages kids to grow 42-foot fingernails. Hey, out with them, too. Kindle the fires!

"Tom Sawyer,"gets the axe for its racial issues, after the district reportedly bought $5,000 worth of copies.

"I discovered it troubling - not only language, but depictions of African-Americans," says the facilitator. There, see, she even read it. Thank goodness she "discovered" all that before anyone noticed it!

Of course, we aren't buying that argument that such reading is grand opportunity to teach students about why intolerance for others never has and never will work. Nahhhhh.

But why stop there? Won't we need to rid ourselves all of those Martin Luther King Jr. events in the schools, Rosa Parks, Malcom X, Medgar Evers, Roots videos? Surely there are racial issues in there somewhere. Perhaps even an "N" Word...

These "pulled" books are in good company. According to the American Library Association, the most banned books of the era include such revolutionist fare as "The Catcher in the Rye," and of course, the evil incarnate "Captain Underpants" children's humor books. Somehow, "Of Mice and Men" has just dropped out of the top ten. What ?! We best get after that one.

For 2006, the most banned book was "And Tango Makes Three" about penguins, of all things. Harry Potter books are the most challenged of the past year - et tu, Harr-i? Shakespeare got the heave-ho, you might say the Bard was Barred, in Michigan. Vonnegut disappered in seven states. Shel Silverstein was outted in North Dakota. James Joyce, Maya Angelou, Hemingway, Stephen King have all been banned.

According to Walden Books, at least 52 books have been forced from schools and libraries or burned in public places over 15 years - things as awful as John Jakes' historical novel, "The Bastard," Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," "The Diary of Anne Frank" (considered too sexy) for Virginia and Alabama.

Kanawha, Iowa, once banned "Grapes of Wrath," Cedar Rapids made "Forever" short-lived, Davenport sunk old "Huckleberry Finn."

"The Living Bible" has been publically burned.

The more popular books seem to be with young people, the more important it seems to be to get rid of them. If we don't get them fast, kids might start reading all kinds of stuff. So "The Chocolate War," "Whale Talk," "What My Mother Doesn't Know" and "Gossip Girls" need to be put under lock and key. When these ideas are outlawed, only outlaws will have ideas.

Perhaps better yet, we should just ban reading.

There's hardly any need for it anyway, kids get by just fine mindlessly punching computer keyboards, and they can get their societal stimulus from those PlayStation3 games and 126 channels of digital cable with Rock of Love reruns, right?

We should thank these wary schools for helping us to get started on this mission. Ideas are dangerous things, and we have to put a stop to these wild-eyed new authors.

Like. um, Mark Twain. Dirty hippy..

Don't get me wrong, as a parent I am concerned about what my children are exposed to. Age level is a factor in what is appropriate for classes. And I would take issue with a school that forced a student to read a book like "Gilbert Grape" or others with more adult themes. The schools in question here, as I believe our area schools do, allow a student or parent to choose another book if desired.

I'm not saying that every book is right for everybody.

But I am saying, if we let people assume the power to begin to pull books off our public shelves, where will it stop?

Carroll students organized a "Censorship Is Wrong," organized effort online, and made up t-shirts like "Think for yourself and let others do the same." Not a bad sentiment.