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Davis Journal

Parents or legislators shouldn’t dictate what someone else’s child reads

Nov 04, 2022 11:57AM ● By Bryan Gray

When it comes to a son’s or daughter’s reading choices, now is a difficult time to be a teacher, a librarian, or a parent.  Utah is typical of many other states where books are being challenged in libraries and schools, some 1,600 individual titles nationally.

The movement to ban or censor reading is usually couched as a “parent’s rights” issue, more engaging to conservative Republican legislators than to the public as a whole. In an American Family Survey, only 12% of Americans thought books should be removed from public school libraries and only about one-third thought parents should have the final say on what books are taught in an English class.

The conservatives have a point. Parents should be in touch with what their child or student is reading. If you see a 17-year-old thumbing the pages of the 1960s “How to Build a Bomb” handbook or an instruction book on painless suicide, there is ample reason for concern.  The problem, however, is that book-banning usually stems from a viewpoint that a parent dislikes. It might spare a child a feeling of “guilt” or stop him or her from feeling anguished. Unfortunately, it also keeps your son or daughter ignorant.

We all can agree that books in public libraries or classrooms should be “age appropriate” and that parents have the right to decide which books their children should read (although good luck with policing that in an internet age). But no parent or legislator should have the right to dictate what someone else’s child reads.

You don’t want your daughter to read a novel about a gay child? Explain your opposition to homosexuality in your living room, but don’t stop other children from reading about the challenges at least one student in your child’s classroom is facing…You don’t want your child to be ashamed of how America treated Native Americans or other minorities? Fine, just admit then that your child should not learn history and discover that the Ku Klux Klan wasn’t merely a patriotic tea social.

The book banning movement isn’t concerned with “dangerous books,” but just books that provide a different insight into how people live and think. Parent groups are raging against “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and any book dealing with snippets of human sexuality or racial justice.

As an English teacher in the 1970s, I saw this first-hand. A parent objected to my selection of “The Great Gatsby” since it included a few paragraphs about social drinking. (Read a description of a “gin and tonic” – my gosh, your child may become an alcoholic!). Another parent objected to my teaching “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” because one humorous incident involved breast-feeding. Another parent complained about the language in “Catcher in the Rye” (although she later thanked me and admitted it was the only book her son had ever read.)

As columnist Leonard Pitts noted, “Why is it that so many people who want to ban books are the same ones who have no problems letting guns in?  They’re terrified that a book will put an idea in their child’s head; why aren’t they terrified that a gun will put a bullet there instead?”

If you are concerned about a book explaining the challenges of a different lifestyle, you are not protecting your son or daughter. You are only delaying their maturity in understanding a diverse, changing society. Your children won’t turn to Satan by reading a Judy Blume novel, and you can’t keep them safe from reality by dictating they read “Rebecca from Sunnybrook Farm” instead.  

Bryan Gray, a long-time Davis County resident, is a former school teacher and has been a columnist for more than 26 years in newspapers along the Wasatch Front. λ