This weekend marks the beginning of Banned Books Week here in the United States (September 30 – October 6, 2012).
One thing that’s worth noting on the list of banned or challenged books published on the American Library Association’s website is how many of the challenges and bans have been associated with required reading in school. I have mixed feelings about this. While I ardently believe that books should be available for all to read, I likewise believe just as ardently that no one should be forced by government (via compulsory education) to read a certain book. Those in favor of that book’s message would call such required reading “education” or “enlightenment” or “personal growth”; those opposed would view it as “propaganda.”
To read, or not to read. There is something comforting in the concept that all citizens of a country should have a common “foundation” born of a universal, democratic educational experience. However, there is something equally appealing in the concept that individuals ought to be in control of their own learning (or their children’s), free from the tyranny of a one-size-fits-all curriculum.
It’s a dilemma worthy of close examination, ideally conducted through reasonably civilized debate. Yet, given the controversy over No Child Left Behind and all the acrimony over teachers’ pay and performance (in a nutshell: given the current polarization of our society), I’m not sure we’re anywhere near capable of that.
We need to have conversations like this. And we need to have them without demonizing the opposite side as “Other.”
Teachers, parents, and communities presumably all have the best interests of children at heart. During Banned Books Week every year we have an opportunity – and an obligation – to think about how the specifics of that should play out.
I’m thankful to the ALA, et al, for keeping the issue alive.