I just finished re-reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury for the unknownth time again. I like Bradbury. If you have never read any of his stuff, pick it up. He has many great books; Dandelion Wine is a magical book, The Martial Chronicles, The Golden Apples of the Sun, The Illustrated Man and many others that are really worth taking the time to read.
Fahrenheit 451 is one that is worth taking the time to re-read. I read it every few years and every time I finish it I think, “I wish everyone would read this book.” This is another book I believe should be required reading. Not anything like Orwell’s “1984” it still shows a picture of a future where everyone’s mind is controlled by television and the government has decided that because books have so many contradicting ideas that it makes people unhappy. The government, having taken upon itself the responsibility of deciding what makes people happy, decides that the books should be outlawed.
The houses are fireproof and so the firemen’s job is changed and now, if a person keeps books of any kind in his house they are arrested and his house is burned to the ground. We meet a fireman named Guy Montag, whose uniform bears the numerals 451, which is the temperature at which book paper burns. It is a chilling book when you read about how every book offends some group or the other until all the groups have their way and the books are destroyed.
Please read this book. My favorite quote from the book, which is said when there is a conversation about the wall-sized T.V. sets with their programs that don’t even give you time to think about what they are saying, if they are saying anything at all. The point of the discussion is that books are not bad because,
“Books can be beaten down with reason.”
I read again just recently about a fight some school board was having over material that was considered objectionable. I offer here my help in deciding which books should be banned from which libraries and which books should be beaten down with reason.
First off I must make the point that there are several different kinds of libraries. There are Grade School, Junior High School, High School, College, Business, Public and Private. For the sake of brevity, I will lump the first three together as Public School Libraries and include with the private libraries retail bookstores.
So, when should a Public School Library ban a book? It seems to me that a well-educated staff including librarian, principal and teachers should make the initial decision, based on scholarly merit. Afterwards a committee of parents, chosen by the principal and as diverse as possible should also be involved. This does not make up for the one thing that is sorely lacking in our modern public school system. Parental involvement. Schools, teachers, principals, librarians and other staff are often vilified because some parent was too lazy to go down to the school and meet the teachers and ask questions. It is not the librarian’s fault that your child read some vile tome, such as “Huckleberry Finn” or “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.” It is your fault for not taking an interest in what they were reading.
If there is a book that you truly feel is offensive and does not belong in the public school library, then there is a grown-up way to deal with it. First, discuss your concerns with the librarian and principal. No. I retract that. First, read the book all the way through, yourself. This will help you if you decide you wish to take up the matter with the librarian and/or principal. Normally, if you have behaved like an adult, you should be able to have worked out some resolution that is equitable. Another thing to keep in mind is age-appropriateness and child-appropriateness. Maybe the book should be moved from the elementary school to the high school, for example. Oh, and have you been talking to your child about this all the way through?
You are not the only parent with the only child in that school. If a resolution cannot be reached, talk to other parents. You might find out that they also have read the same book, and found nothing wrong with it at all and you are a minority. If they do agree that it is questionable, then get together as a group and express your concerns. After that there is always the school board, whose representative you should have talked to by this time.
I have written thus far with the thought in mind that it is your child that is directly affected in your district and that you are not just being a nosy old busy-body saying, “Well, if I had kids I certainly wouldn’t let them read that!”
I probably would not have been allowed to read Catch-22 if my father had read the book , and saw the scene where the Italian whore is beating Yossarian over the head with a shoe, but I read it anyway and I have never had an Italian whore beat me up with her shoe. It was just a scene in a book that helped move the story along, in this case in a humorous fashion. Which brings us too whether or not you have explained to your kid why this book is offensive and what your beliefs are? If your child does not understand why they are not allowed to read it and how it does not fit with your family’s teachings, you could be shooting yourself in the foot because as anyone who has ever been a child can testify, If you are told not to do something, it piques your curiosity until you do it. While the parents are marching and boycotting and picketing, the kids are passing the contraband amongst them and have read it at least once. However, if your child has been persuaded top your beliefs, he or she may decide that they do not want to read it all on their own.
There are some books that can and should be banned from public schools and there are some that should be moved to a higher level. This should vary from school to school and district to district and will likely reflect the social mores of that area.
Private Christian schools have a responsibility to the parishioners and families and church and their libraries should be different. What I think is hokey is when you pick up a book at such a place and find that all the “bad words” have been crossed out. Do you really think a young person is not going to figure out what that word was, or worse yet, imagine one in its place? Just do not use the book. You must have read that word when you crossed it out. Christian schools fall under the category of private and or business libraries.
Private businesses, private schools, bookstores and especially homes can (or should be able to) do whatever they want. You can keep any book you want and get rid of any book you do not want. That was easy. I have had books I read once and traded in at the used book store for something better.
Public and college libraries are different. They should be repositories for as many books and as much knowledge as possible. “I’m afraid my child might read something nasty at the library. They have some nasty stuff there you know. I just don’t let ‘em go.” Why don’t you just go with them? See what they are interested in. When they come home from the library, have them show you what they got.
I don’t think public libraries operate the same as they used to, but when I was a young teenager there were some things I wanted to check out that the librarian said I couldn’t have until I was 18. Now they might leave that to the parents. Ask. You know, as long as they live in your house they have to live by your rules. Check their backpack, listen to their CDs, go through their closets and dressers and find out what is going on. It is your house. Sorry, younger readers, but that’s the way life is supposed to be. Your parents have been there and done that and can tell you the truth about it. It is their business. Besides, you might be shocked to find out what they do know.
Having digressed from public libraries let me return to the topic at hand. The committee that chooses books for the library also likes to get constructive input on what they should offer and what they should not. They should have different, much broader-based set of criteria, however.
For example, there is a book coming out that is a collection of writings by Osama Bin Laden and various Al-Qaeda and other terrorist leaders. Talk show hosts and others have decried it as an outrage. Why would they publish such a thing? What will they do with the profits? What can be done? Well, they should publish it if they think it is in their best interests and in the interest of their stockholders to do so. What business is it of anybody’s what they do with the profits? Spend ‘em. What can be done.
If you really want to know what to do about it, I will tell you although it really is simple. Don’t buy it. If you don’t buy it, they won’t profit from it. Now, the catch is, how many people will refrain from buying it? I won’t buy it. Is it my business other than that? Maybe if I am a stockholder. Will I read it? Probably. At the library or at the bookstore (Modern bookstores are neat that way. You get a latte or cappuccino or coffee or whatever, pick up a book, go sit in an overstuffed leather chair and read the book.) But I won’t buy it.
Why, oh why would you even think about reading such a thing? Because “Books can be beaten down with reason.” It is the opposite principal as all the leftist T.V. shows that spout vituperations against Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and have never listened to one hour of their shows. By knowing their thoughts I can effectively denounce them. Books are the only medium you can do this with.
Remember, The Good Book says, “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.”