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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Banned Book Week is over

Last week was banned book week.

It's something I thought about blogging, but never really resolved my ambiguous feelings about it. I tend to be of the opinion that it's more complex than the sound bites sometimes make it out to be.

First, what does it really mean to ban a book? From what I've seen, a book can make it on the banned list for being removed from an elementary school library. Yet, there are some books that don't belong in an elementary school library. If a young child is really ready for the heavier stuff, he or she can get it from the public library. However, who would really want D.H. Lawerence on a fourth grade reading list?

Now granted, I think we often underestimate young readers. Or worse yet, we try to protect them from things that they shouldn't be protected from. One of the valuable functions of art--whether it is literature, drama, music, or paintings, is that it lets people experience unsafe things in a safe setting. It provides people the opportunity to explore consequences of actions without actually having to experience those consequences. It's why I cringe when I hear parents say they don't want their junior high children reading anything violent. Whyever not? Isn't it better they explore violence in the context of black ink on white pages than to have to experience it with no foreknowledge?

That said, I think it wise to consider carefully what we offer in our classrooms even while allowing people of all ages absolute freedom in what they read outside of the classroom. There are times I'd like to ban some of the horrid Disney books that are riddled with grammatical errors, but I'll limit myself to refusing to buy them or read them aloud. That said, if one of them were being offered as curriculum in a local school, I might find myself objecting.

There is a difference between censorship and gatekeeping. Gatekeeping is something that ought to be done more often so that we can encourage high quality reading experiences.

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