My last post praised the many attributes of Dallas. However, this week I also feel compelled to share a not-so-fond impression of the city. Today marks the last day of Banned Book Week, seven days I feel very strongly about. In my view, censorship of reading materials is wrong in any form, but this holds especially true for children’s literature. As adults, we have a myriad of ways to obtain “controversial” books that others have chosen to challenge or ban outright. Children are not always so lucky. In fact banning a book often ensures that they will never even know it exists.
One of my strongest memories of Dallas became imprinted on my mind during my first visit there. I was in a coffee shop when I opened the local newspaper to find an article about the desire of school board members to censor history textbooks by changing the one currently in use to a “more appropriate” book. This was several years ago but what I still recall (to the best of my memory) was that a number of Board members were concerned that the positive references to “non-Christians” outnumbered the references to “Christians” in the book. It seemed that someone had actually taken the time to go through the textbook underlining the offending sentences with the goal of presenting numerical proof of a subliminal attempt to negatively influence students’ fragile self-images. I found this incredibly ironic coming from a state that had approved textbooks for years which paid scanty attention to any historical reference that wasn’t highlighting the accomplishments of whites, including valuable contributions made by African-Americans and Latinos during the past centuries. I remember contemplating the number of children that would be receiving a skewed view of American and world history should this resolution pass. Closing the newspaper, I found myself hoping that this was simply an aberration, a dying gasp from an ideology slowly being replaced by a more inclusive society.
Sadly I was wrong. Just this year, my son forwarded me a piece about the latest controversy in Highland Park, an affluent town in Dallas County. This time the censorship attack came from two parents, one who opposed the use of a book about the working poor in an AP English class, saying that it undercut American values, and the other who wanted The Art of Racing in the Rain removed from the class reading list because there was profanity and sexual content in it. (Read more at http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/park-cities/headlines/20150128-highland-park-isd-parent-calls-book-on-poverty-socialist-marxist.ece )
My biggest objection to these women foisting their opinions about what is and isn’t appropriate reading on the rest of us was their assertion that these books have no place in a classroom. Isn’t that what schools are for? To teach kids to form independent, knowledge-based opinions so as to better articulate their ideas and values? Instead of banning the books, why don’t these adults read them along with kids, and then rationally discuss them? Good literature is meant to challenge us, not to be removed and buried in a basement somewhere. One of the major tenets of America has always been diversity, and that should encompass the books available to all Americans, including the youngest ones. Our right to choose what we read is precious and inalienable and we need to protect it at all costs.
It’s okay to have mixed feelings about certain books, just like I have mixed feelings about Dallas. There is a lot of gray in the world we live in. I will continue to visit the city and enjoy all it has to offer but I can't promise that I'll keep silent about things I believe Dallas could do better. After all, isn’t that part of a writer’s job?