Once you ban the dictionary, you may want to realize you’ve gone too far.
These book bans are really getting ridiculous. The fact that we are at the point in 2024 America that school districts are allowing the dictionary to be banned should make everyone question the power and authority of those holding any office in these areas of the country.
The following is an updated version of a series of posts I wrote a few years back. Since this issue doesn’t seem to be going away, I felt it was time to revisit it.
Those Who Don’t Learn from History…
There’s something somewhat antiquated about the concept of banning books. Societies of the past have participated in book bans and even book burnings in the town square. Before the recent news stories about banning books, America had an odd obsession with rap music, destroying CDs with steamrollers to the cheers of those who feared its edgy lyrics.
People fear what they don’t understand and don’t care to learn about. Ignorance spawns an odd mob mentality that can lead to collective fear, anger, and violence. In our most recent incarnation of book banning, LGBTQIA+ books in school libraries have been the target of many parents and politicians. This has led to threats on librarians to close local libraries due to pulled funding.
Let’s dig into the idea of banning books in 2024 and whether all this madness and furor is worth it.
Is it Really About “Protecting the Children,” And What Exactly Are We “Protecting the Children” From?
We hear this from both sides of the political spectrum. It’s all about protecting the innocent child. Conservative and progressive politicians and parents use this fictional child entity as a political weapon. This fake child will be forever scarred, their life ruined if they see – or don’t see – something before the age of eighteen.
What I find interesting about this in the context of banning books is that we never hear from real children who are upset, offended, or bothered by the content of these “evil” books that have “invaded” their school libraries to “corrupt” their naïve and unknowing consciences.
While I do believe that there is content that children shouldn’t be able to access, we also have to accept that in 2022 where everyone has some device linked to the internet, most young people have viewed content – on accident or not – that is probably more graphic than anything they will see in a library book.
Let’s move on to another aspect of this book banning that many have not considered.
The Taboo Effect
When I was in high school, a college acting troupe came to our church and did a sketch about the evils of television. One of the bits was a re-enactment of a scene from Married…with Children. I had never seen the show, but the troupe’s portrayal of the Bundy family didn’t seem that offensive or make them look that bad.
That night at home, I found a rerun of the show on TV and have been a lifelong fan of the series ever since.
I don’t think that was the intended outcome this acting troupe was hoping for.
Kids – and I used to be one – always seek ways to rebel against their parents and society. They can be overt acts of rebellion or more covert acts. When someone in authority tells a young person not to do something and becomes hyperbolic in their reasoning as to why it’s bad, a kid is more likely to want to find out about it for themselves.
When I hear about a book being banned, I immediately want to know why, and it also makes me want to read it to see just how “bad,” “evil,” and “morally corrupt” it is. And if I’m doing that in my 40s, curious kids and teens will do the same thing.
When a society demonizes something – rock music, rap music, video games – it tends to make that thing more popular and more intriguing due to its taboo nature.
Another aspect of this is that these parents and politicians who bring up these books and want them exorcized from libraries are creating free publicity and generating interest for them as well. There were thousands of books in the school libraries at my elementary, middle, and high school, and most I never looked at or read. Were there books about topics that some may have found objectionable? More than likely. But if attention isn’t drawn to them, no one knows about them, and they remain on the shelf.
By broadcasting your disdain and disgust for a book on a national stage, you just made that book more popular.
Book Banning in the Amazon Era
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, if you wanted to ban a book from your local library – like The Catcher in the Rye – you would probably have successfully kept it out of the hands of the “vulnerable” youth in your town.
However, in 2024, a book ban at a school is meaningless when anyone can order any book they wish via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any number of used booksellers online. Senator Ted Cruz (R – Texas) made a big presentation in Congress about a children’s book called The Anti-Racist Baby. If he were rallying against this book in 1950, we probably would never have seen the book again in most sections of the country.
But his attempt was made in 2022, and his presentation about the book led to a surge in sales on Amazon, making it the #1 children’s book that week.
A similar situation befell inaugural poet Amanda Gorman in 2023 when her published poem, “The Hill We Climb,” was banned from a Florida elementary school by a mother who hadn’t even read it and thought its author was Oprah Winfrey!
Gorman’s book, The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country, was #1 on Amazon within hours of the news breaking and is currently a Teachers’ Pick on the site.
Senator Cruz’s action leads me to another point…
And we’ll explore that point next week!