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I read banned books

ALLY IN THE ACADEMY - 9/01/2017

Posted 9/1/17

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I read banned books

ALLY IN THE ACADEMY - 9/01/2017

Posted

By Trum Simmons

Banned Books Week this year is Sept. 24-30, a good time to check on the latest book challenges across the country. The American Library Association (ALA) has been organizing these weeks since 1981, the year Ronald Reagan took office and Jerry Falwell was making headlines with his Moral Majority.

In 2017 we now have a president who doesn’t read books, and has no idea how closely his administration thus far mirrors George Orwell’s classic novel 1984, one of the all-time most-challenged books in the United States and around the world.

Our president hammers away at what he calls “fake news” in the mainstream media while spewing all sorts of Orwellian rhetoric and presenting outright lies as truth. One of the slogans of the Party in 1984 was Ignorance is Strength.

If ignorance is strength, the Trump leadership approach must be strong indeed, for he makes the Know-Nothing Party of the 1840s and 1850s look like amateurs.

I created a course at HACC in the early 1980s called Banned Books; this meant that my students and I got to read and study some truly wonderful books. I’m talking about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Color Purple, Brave New World and The Catcher in the Rye, among others.

Students read and gave class presentations on many other challenged books, including Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) which achieved renewed acclaim last spring after a TV adaptation watched by millions. Heather Has Two Mommies (1989) was another.

Five of the top 10 books challenged in 2016 were from people who didn’t appreciate LGBTQ characters, especially transgender characters.

The top five list of 2016 compiled by the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the ALA included Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (the cover alone gave some people hives because it included an image of two boys kissing) and I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, which has a transgender child in it.

The office recorded 323 documented requests in 2016, and we know from surveys that most requests are not reported and don’t get media coverage.

In 1981 Jerry Falwell told his followers to check their school libraries and textbooks for “immoral, anti-family and anti-American content.” In 2017, a group called The Florida Citizens’ Alliance helped push through a law that says parents or any residents may challenge a book or other instructional materials in an independent hearing.

Keith Flaugh, a founder of the alliance, said his study of some 60 textbooks were “full of political indoctrination, religious indoctrination, revisionist history and distorting our founding values and principles.” Flaugh said these books contain a lot of “garbage.”

For decades the Texas Board of Education has been hearing objections to textbooks along the same line as the Florida folks. The difference here is that a commission of 15 people hear objections and then rule on the materials presented.

The objections in Texas are the same as those in Florida, so textbooks that feature information on the LGBT spectrum will have a hard time in the commission’s hearings.

Back in the 1980s a Texas parent challenged the dictionary being considered because of all the bad words it contained. The earnest man read aloud a list of the words, after asking for God’s forgiveness. Some of the commission members blanched as he read “fuck … shit … dildo,” and some 10 others.

Where are we today in the Trump era? The Reagan era is considered by many as the start of today’s culture wars, which not too long ago were thought to be on the wane. But the culture wars have their origins deep in American history and probably will never die. It is scary to see the latest breakout of hostilities, especially given this time of “alternative facts” and “fake news.”

I don’t think we are going to regress all that much. In any case, there’s no question we need to fight these efforts to halt the advance of inclusion and equality in our country.

At Pride Festival of Central PA on July 29 I was uplifted by the turnout of so many folks. It was a beautiful day celebrating beautiful people--people who represent the best of America. We have earned our place in American culture including our art, literature and school textbooks. Ignorance is not strength, regardless of what any president thinks or says.