Sunday, September 25, 2022

It's not the books that suffer

I've started trying to avoid using the phrase "book bans" or "banning books." Here's why.

I understand that the phrases carry power and punch. They're short and sharp and they have associations; nobody ever thinks that someone who's proposing a book ban is the good guy. For that matter, nobody who wants to ban a book ever says, "We want to ban that book."

But I'd like to suggest a refocus on the language. I don't have a punchy substitute, but I'm tending toward "reading restrictions," and here's why.

A book ban is about a book. We imagine a book being pulled off a shelf, maybe even thrown on a fire.

But the real damage done is not that a book has been shackled. The actual damage is that some human being has been restricted from reading about certain ideas or certain strings of words.

This is particularly true these days in which many of the folks who are trying to restrict student reading rights aren't targeting particular books so much as they are targeting particular ideas or types of people. The specific books being banned are incidental. In many cases, we're seeing something like Texas State Representative Matt Krause's big list of naughty books, which was clearly assembled not because of objections to particular books, but by doing a blunt instrument search for books that contained particular words or phrases and therefor, he presumed, certain forbidden ideas.

These gag laws and moves to restrict aren't about limiting the movement and activity of books; they're about restricting the reading (or more accurately, the thinking) of students. 

While locking up a few books may offend the sensibilities of some, I suspect a larger group of people would be alarmed if we started fitting all school age children with blindfolds and ear plugs.

That's what these reading restrictions and gag laws are all about-- forbidding students from seeing or hearing anything about certain parts of human experience, about the reality of the world as it is today. 

It's not about banning books; it's about restricting the freedoms of children. Yes, as a parent you absolutely set the guardrails of experience around your kids as you see fit. But as soon as you want to limit the freedom of everybody else's children, you're just one more kind of tyrant, one more person trying to exercise authority over others. 

It's not about parental rights when it's about one set of parents infringing on the rights of other parents to decide on the range of experience for their own children (note: the existence of a book does not infringe on your parental right to limit the experience of your own child). 

The term "book ban" is doing a lot of heavy lifting right now, collecting a wide range of actions an initiatives. But what unites them all is their real purpose--to restrict students' experience and limit their freedom to read and learn. 

1 comment: