Commentary: When the Joy of Reading Crosses Paths With the Censors

By Linda Hart Green

I do 75% of my seeing out of my right eye. My left eye was damaged at birth. Practically speaking, this means I started wearing glasses at just over two years old. I am terrible at sports involving aiming. My depth perception is off. The glasses I wore as a child were thick, thicker on the left. I was called “four eyes” by other kids.

My solace was reading. I was an early reader, and I read and read. I would look forward to spending my Saturdays devouring a new book. If the weather was nice, my mother would come into the living room and take my books away. “Go outside and play and don’t come home till dinner time,” she would admonish me. She was very practical and believed in lots of fresh air for all. She did not have to coax my brother. He was out the door in a flash.

My outdoor adventures would inevitably wind up with skinned knees or elbows and broken glasses. It was embarrassing to go to school on Monday with a wad of tape holding the nose piece of my glasses together or holding one of the frame sides to the front until they could be repaired. I am so happy for today’s glasses-wearing children who have stretchy frames in fun colors.

I even read the encyclopedia! I was a complete nerd. We had a full set and also a one-volume compilation my father liked to keep in the dining room along with a dictionary to settle word definition and word origin disputes. Now we carry the equivalent of a set of encyclopedias in our pockets.

My parents trusted my teachers and my public school’s administrators to choose my reading materials wisely and appropriately. They were interested in what I was reading, and we talked about it. Later, when I came home from college on the weekends to see friends and do laundry, I always brought books in my Army surplus backpack. I was a sort-of hippie, and it was the early 1970s. My dad enjoyed looking through my textbooks, except my survey of French literature, which I was reading in French. I went to a small, private Christian college and we read many of the French classics. Oh my!

My paternal grandmother and three aunts were teachers. They would have been horrified by the  restrictions on today’s educators. One of my aunts was the principal of a junior high school in Brooklyn, New York. Needless to say, she was a tough cookie. She was strict in discipline and fierce in defending the need for students to develop their minds. They all believed in the importance of intellectual freedom in order for students to grow into mature adults with problem-solving skills, adults who could cope with and contribute to the complex world around them.

When I speak of intellectual freedom, this is what I mean:

“Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.” (Wayne State University Library System website, Sept. 23, 2023.)

Intellectual freedom is under attack in our country and in our county. Here are some sobering statistics from PEN America (pen.org), an organization that champions the freedom to write:

“The freedom to read is under assault in the United States — particularly in public schools — curtailing students’ freedom to explore words, ideas, and books. In the 2022-23 school year, from July 1, 2022, to June 31, 2023, PEN America recorded 3,362 instances of book bans in U.S. public school classrooms and libraries. These bans removed student access to 1,557 unique book titles, the works of over 1,480 authors, illustrators, and translators. Authors whose books are targeted are most frequently female, people of color, and/or LGBTQ+ individuals. Amid a growing climate of censorship, school book bans continue to spread through coordinated campaigns by a vocal minority of groups and individuals and, increasingly, as a result of pressure from state legislation.”

The challenge to and successful ban of 34 books in Nassau County was brought by a vocal minority group with a particular religious and political slant (Citizens Defending Freedom). Their challenges were sustained by state legislation. The states of Florida and Texas are the national hot spots for these challenges and bans.

A saying about individual rights goes like this, “Your freedom to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose.” All parents have the right and responsibility to nurture and protect their child as they see fit. When another person or persons, who are not the child’s parent or grandparent, swings a fist that bans books, when does that cross the line into censorship?

I was a poorly-sighted little girl who loved to read. That love sustained me and helped me grow through my K-12 years in public schools, four years of private Christian college, three years of theological school and two years of doctoral work.  My love of reading continued to enrich my 35-year career in ministry. I am an avid reader today.

I want that freedom to read and think and grow for every child.

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jfindlay
Noble Member
jfindlay(@jfindlay)
1 month ago

Thank you for writing this. I agree with you 100%. Freedom to read and form opinions is essential to American democracy! Citizens Defending Freedom is misguided, and is actually taking away an important freedom in Nassau County.

Mark Tomes
Active Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 month ago

In my discussions with many of the people who support banning these books, I have discovered two main things: 1) that they have gross misunderstandings of who LGBTQ+ people are and their lives, and 2) and they have anachronistic and irrational obsession with the sex act, usually by confusing love and romance with sex. Most of these people are operating out of fear and not rationality, and will rarely will we be able to change their minds. It is up to the rest of us to bring the battle to where it has the most effect: the voting booth and the courts.

WaynesBit
Noble Member
WaynesBit(@waynesbit)
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

nice hearsay and BS. Did the author actually bother to offer the other side a chance to respond. Of course not.

lucyp74
Noble Member
lucyp74(@lucyp74)
1 month ago

As an acid reader who absolutely LOVES books and who gifts books to our grandson (every holiday!!!), I admire your dedication to this. However, I feel there is a need to keep some books currently in print OUT of the schools (OR give parents the ability to give permission to allow their child to check them out). MANY so called children’s books I have seen today are very risqué I grew up reading Judy Blume—and MANY want to pull HER from libraries. However, I feel that her level of “graphic” is as graphic as it should get for schools. Anything above that should be left for a PARENT to introduce to their child. I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree—READING introduces you to worlds that otherwise would remain hidden. But, for children, we MUST be mindful of what we allow them to experience.

susan15
Active Member
susan15(@susan15)
1 month ago

I suppose my parents trusted the school board decisions on book selections, but their children didn’t! (Ok, this was 50 years ago!) There was no more effective way of getting a book on my school friends’ Top 10 Books list.  Ban it and we’d read it. At our pajama parties the discussions were about boys, music, makeup…and books. We read them all, usually asking, “What was the big deal about this one?” We had community library cards and also bought books at the used paperback book store.  Didn’t think of us as rebels, but I guess today we would be.

Barnes Moore
Trusted Member
Barnes Moore(@barnes-moore)
1 month ago

The question is, where do we draw the line? What is age appropriate material for public school libraries, especially grade and middle school? Do we make books available to 8 year old students that contain x-rated graphical depictions of sexual acts, some with pictures, and not necessarily in a loving context? If so, do we also allow simple graphic pornography? After all, most men who purchased Playboy bought the magazine for the articles, right? I would post content from a couple of the books that are banned from public school libraries, but my comment would likely be censored because the content would be deemed inappropriate for the comment section of the Observer – just like parents who have been muted at school board meetings for reading directly from such books, because of the graphical nature of the language.

Articles like this are dishonest at best – just like the narrative around the “don’t say gay bill” where the bill said nothing about being gay or heterosexual – it simply addressed teaching material that is age appropriate. This article paints a picture that we are arbitrarily banning books in school libraries for no good reason. And, by the way, you can still order those books on Amazon, except, of course, for some period of time anyway, the book “When Harry Became Sally”

Here is a review of the book “Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez.

I was not impressed with this book. As a librarian I was excited when I saw one of the Printz Honor Books for 2016 was historical fiction about a tragedy that happened about 80 years ago in my east Texas. It was an award-winning book that should be shared with HS students about the explosion of the New London school in 1937. WRONG. The prelude was great, but that was about all that can be shared with students. Every 20-30 pages Ms. Perez decided to drop a sex bomb in the mix, not R but X-Rated. I’m sure there are some librarians and teachers out there who are quite uncomfortable purchasing or recommending a book with graphic sexual language and situations continually repeated throughout a book especially when they thought they were going to get some historical perspective from it. BEWARE! Furthermore, how could I possibly recommend a book with such a horrific ending? “Here students, spend hours and hours of the free time you barely have reading a book that will make you feel like crap when you finish it.” Teens have enough to be depressed about without giving them a book they would like to throw across the room upon finishing. And finally, I wasn’t around in 1937, but I personally didn’t appreciate the wide swath of bigotry that Ms. Perez painted over the entire area. Having lived in east Texas for 57 years I have experienced both good and bad and I believe that both were also present in 1937. Contrary to popular political correctness, not every white person is a racial bigot.

And one more:

(a) For purposes of this section:
(1) “Minor” means an individual younger than 18 years.
(2) “Harmful material” means material whose dominant theme taken as a whole:
(A) appeals to the prurient interest of a minor, in sex, nudity, or excretion;
(B) is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors; and
(C) is utterly without redeeming social value for minors.

I have no problem with discussions about this topic, and many others. But they need to be honest discussions that provide full context, not just one-sided arguments – and both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of offering such arguments.

dhelwig
Member
dhelwig(@dhelwig)
1 month ago

What books were banned? Does anyone have a list?

WendeBurdick
Active Member
WendeBurdick(@wendeburdick)
1 month ago
Reply to  dhelwig

These are the top 13 books that the American Library Association is fighting to keep on the shelves of school libraries. I think banning books is a slippery slope but I also believe strongly that parents should be able to teach the values of their family to their children without the schools intervening with content that undermines those values. Also, healthy child development must be considered. Pornography isn’t healthy for adults, imagine its impact on children.
https://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2023/04/national-library-week-kicks-highly-anticipated-annual-list-top-10-most

Barnes Moore
Trusted Member
Barnes Moore(@barnes-moore)
1 month ago
Reply to  WendeBurdick

Just a note, you can find videos of parents reading directly from Lawn Boy and Gender Queer at school board meetings who were muted/silenced for reading profane content, yet the ALA seems to think that these books are ok for Middle School libraries. Even the authors agree that the content is inappropriate for that age group. High school, maybe ok, but Grade & Middle School?

Kathy Blacklock
Editor
Active Member
Kathy Blacklock(@blacklock)
1 month ago
Reply to  dhelwig

We have edited the commentary to include a link to the list of the books banned in Nassau County schools. ~Editors

Jo-Ann Leimberg
Active Member
Jo-Ann Leimberg(@jo-ann-leimberg)
1 month ago

In our school and public libraries aren’t there distinct and separate areas for types of books and age-appropriate books? Aren’t there librarians who keep an eye on their students as well as their books? There certainly were when I spent hours in “my” library after school. I remember being asked once or twice if they could help me find something, but they never had to direct me away from a book. Why would I need to go to another section when there were so many books to read in my age-appropriate section? Do we no longer trust our librarians to select age-appropriate books and care for the readers, especially the children, in our libraries? Or do we not have sufficient librarians to keep an eye on individual children and young people?

In so far as teaching a parents’ values, wouldn’t discussing books and themes with a child be a great way to share the parents’ thoughts, views, values? If the book’s message isn’t a parent’s message, why? What can be offered as an alternative message? Sometimes children can show surprising insight able to surprise and delight. Perhaps even provide reason for a parent to rethink. Or, at the very least get to know their child better.

I agree a description of a book should reflect the entirety of the book.

Skonberg
Active Member
Skonberg(@skonberg)
1 month ago

On a much broader platform let’s not forget the censorship that took place during the last four years. This involved our federal government coercing tech companies to censor scientists, physicians and others attempting to question the handling of C19 by our public “health” agencies and their ill-fated vaccine only, no early treatment policies. The UN/WHO with avowed communist Tedros in cahoots with CCP and capitalist/globalists at the helm are pushing for a treaty that will remove US sovereign rights to free choice, informed consent, and will involve censorship by the puppet media of dissenting voices.

Jason Collins
Noble Member
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
1 month ago

What a load of gobbly gook this article is and by an ordained minister at that? Also did you notice that Ms. Green tried to tie the LGBTQ activists to minorities once again insinuating that parents advocating to keep their under age school children away from the filth that some of these activist authors try to push are also racist in nature? I could not find the list of 34 banned books that Ms. Green conveniently left out of this article but here is a list of the 50 most banned books from schools and they are loaded with DEI and gender activism…
https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/the-50-most-banned-books-in-america/
Decide for yourself if you want your children exposed to most of this trash!!

Kathy Blacklock
Editor
Active Member
Kathy Blacklock(@blacklock)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

We have edited the commentary to include a link to the list of the books banned in Nassau County schools. ~Editors

JJC
Active Member
JJC(@jjc)
1 month ago

I may be wrong but I assumed each level of school had their own library appropriate for that level of student. I wouldn’t expect to see Mein Kampf or The Communist Manifesto in elementary school libraries but hope like hell it is in the high school libraries. Nor, would I expect to see Where’s Waldo in the high school libraries.
Further, the old adage regarding pornography was ” I can’t define pornography but I know it when I see it.” One person’s potion is another’s poison! This reminds me of the “War on Drugs” started fifty some years ago. Have we learned nothing?
This whole argument boils down to control by a few of the many. My child’s education was my responsibility not groups of alleged “do-gooders” who only care about “our children.” The tendency of late to attack the messenger of a message you don’t agree with has nothing to do with freedom but a lot to do with control/power.
We have one of the top rated school systems in the State – period! Do we need CDF, or other people with no skin in the game, to tell our school superintendent, school board members and school staffs how to run our schools? These centralized talking points of a national group have little or nothing to do with Nassau County and our school administrators but all to do with some political agenda of a group of very few people in our County.
Parents always have the right to restrict what their children are checking out of the library w/o the assistance of CDF or others. The simple way is called parenting and includes being involved in all aspects of their child’s lives. Check their backpack, communicate with the teachers and other school staff but the idea of some politically motivated group who wants to impose the will of the few over that of the many is troubling at best and un-American at the worst. The seeking of publicity is a sign that the ultimate goal isn’t improving our educational system but, rather, self promotion and aggrandizement.
Thank you Reverend for taking the “Christ-like” approach!

Betsie Huben
Noble Member
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
1 month ago

The problem is two-fold. First and foremost, the teachers we had back in the day did try to choose things “wisely and appropriately”. I am dating myself here but – does anybody remember the scandal associated with Peyton Place when it first came out? It was not “banned”. It was deemed inappropriate for young people and did not wind up in school libraries. And there was a huge controversy about the TV series as well. Sadly, things have changed a lot since then and families today have been put in a position where they must be on the lookout for age-inappropriate materials in classrooms and school libraries throughout the grades K-12. This matter is not about WHAT is being read. It is about WHEN it is appropriate for a particular book to be available for young people through classrooms and libraries. This is no different than putting a rating on films or music for sexually explicit content or violence. None of these materials are “banned”. Rather, parents get to make the choices about when they feel their child is ready for the material involved. And that is exactly how it should be.

WaynesBit
Noble Member
WaynesBit(@waynesbit)
1 month ago

I was just wondering if they gave Citizens Defending Freedom an opportunity to respond to this one-sided hit piece.