Celebrate Banned Books Week by reading to kids

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Who cares about books anymore? I mean, we have 500-plus cable channels, we can download any music we like, and we can surf the near-infinite Internet. In the sooner-than-later future, all useable and useless information may be accessible online. Until then, though, books are still very much a part of us. And by “us” I mean students and schools in particular. We need to care about books – for ourselves and our children – and stop censorship.

Banned Books Week, which runs this year from Sept. 24 – Oct. 1, discloses how often books are threatened with being banned. Most books on the list are not truly banned, but are ones that someone or some organization tried to remove from a library, bookstore, school, or elsewhere.

These “challenges” are definite attempts to get these books banned. And, according to the American Library Association’s Banned Book Week website, over 70% of challenges are aimed at libraries in schools or classrooms themselves!

But wait, isn’t challenging certain books just about caring for and protecting our children? ALA’s site says parents do make 60 percent of the challenges. Shouldn’t a parent or group of parents have a say in what their child reads or has access to read? Yes. Do they also have the right to say what all children read or have access to read? Well…

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say most teachers and schools know what they’re doing – sorry Mr. Bush. and Arnie. If a book is used in class or in the library, it just might have some merit.

Yet hundreds of books get challenged every year, not only children’s books, but classics, history and science textbooks, and more. Check out ALA’s website and others for the scary list of books often disputed. I bet you’ll find some books that you’ve read are on there.

So how can you help personally? As students, perhaps future parents, and maybe even future teachers, simply don’t become part of the problem. If your or someone else’s child comes home from school and says, “Mr. Dooley read to us from something called ‘Huck Finn’ today and he used the ‘N’ word!” or whatever book it might be, discuss it with the tyke. “Did you talk about it in class? What do you think? This is how we feel about it, as your parents.”

Then, arrange to meet, not confront, the teacher. If the teacher didn’t include your view in class (I’d be surprised if they didn’t), they can next time. Certain books might not profess ideas you believe in or approve of, but keeping them from kids won’t make them go away. When you talk to your kids, you share your ideas.

Books are ideas. And, freedom to express ideas is what is at stake here. As students we know that schools should be the primary rampart for sharing ideas. If young pupils can’t have free access to diverse ideas, how can they cultivate new ones? Stopping censorship is protecting our children by helping them know and grow.

Stopping censorship should not be confined to Banned Books Week any more than patriotism is solely on July 4 (yes, I’m playing the “Censorship is un-American card”). The American Library Association website has lots more ways you can heighten awareness of Banned Books Week and censorship as well as encourage reading as well as stuff you can buy to support the cause, though some of the material is lame (Sorry, ALA).

Their main precept is “Read Banned Books.” Yes, read them, pass them on, read them to your kids, and defend education’s right to educate. The website of the National Council of Teachers of English not only talks about students’ right to read but also has a form to report a censorship incident.

Caring for books by supporting Banned Books Week and helping to stop censorship is caring for kids and caring for us.

Kevin Dooley, senior english major and member of Sigma Tau Delta (the English Honors Society), can be reached at kevin.dooley.393@csun.edu.