Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Challenge = ban? 

Erin O'Connor notes the new list of books that are cited as "challenged" by the American Library Association, which she paranthetically says means "an attempt to ban", all as part of Banned Books Week. This would give the appearance that attempts at censorship are alive and well in the USA. Peter Swanson challenges that viewpoint.

A close examination of what qualifies as "banned" or "challenged" reveals that the ALA does not want any interference with its choices for acquisitions or curriculum. To them, any complaint about accuracy or age-appropriateness is the equivalent of a book burning.

The Library of Congress is the most comprehensive collection of books that are published in the United States. Every other American library's collection will be a smaller subset of this. Each library must choose which volumes to acquire and shelve. When a librarian makes that choice, it is deemed to be based on quality or pedagogical criteria. When a taxpayer or parent questions that choice, it is deemed to be narrow-minded censorship.

The arrogance is compounded when discussing school curriculum. In choosing a certain book for a certain class in a certain grade, it is necessary to whittle down the millions of books in the Library of Congress to a mere handful. Then students must attend classes, under penalty of truancy, and read the assigned books. Is it wrong for parents and taxpayers in a free society to involve themselves in the choice of books? Should we limit the discussion to those people with degrees in teaching or library science?

Government employees who seek to squelch citizen dissent should be careful when they throw around terms like "censorship."

There is no such thing as a banned book within someone's home; what you hold in your own library is what you accept. If you homeschool a child, there is no conflict over what is a banned or challenged book for your child.