Redneck Mother, and Pandagon (twice), and Feministe all write in honor of Banned Books week. Most book banning in America takes place in public school libraries. It never fails to amaze me that people want to control what their children read rather than encouraging them to read everything they can get their hands on. I wrote in gratitude for my own unsheltered childhood here.
UPDATED: Joel Monka critiques the concept of Banned Books Week. Joel comes out in defense of the right of parents to decide what books are carried in their local public school library. I agree with much of what he says. It is beyond question that parents should have the right to control and monitor their children's reading. Of course, that is not to say that parents SHOULD prevent their children from reading certain books or prevent school libraries from carrying certain books. Parents should have every right to forbid their children from reading "The Diary of Anne Frank" or Harry Potter - but I have the right to pity those children for what they are missing and to urge parents to let their children's minds have free reign.
To me, the beauty of Banned Books Week is that it clearly illustrates the power of the written word and informs us what topics and ideas scare or threaten American parents. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is considered inapproriate, and "Huck Finn," too! Who knew?
Joel's post is also worth reading (and commenting on) because it touches on what I think is a crucial issue that I haven't quite figured out yet. On the one hand, I sympathize with parents who feel at odds with the values their public schools are teaching. Some parents believe that homosexuality is a sin, so isn't a public school overstepping the line if it teaches that homosexuality is not a sin? What if it were the other way around and the public school were teaching kids that being gay is bad -- I certainly wouldn't like that. So where do we draw the line as to what values are appropriately taught in public school and what teaching interferes with the parents' freedom to pass on their own values?
On the other hand, aren't their certain values, civic values, that Americans all should share, and that should be taught in public education? Is it worrisome that a significant minority of the population is now home schooled and therefore possibly learning a very different version of civics than the conventional? (such as beliefs that Biblical law should enjoy equal precedence with the Constitution in governing the country or that judges should disregard precedent -- I don't know how many people actually believe this bu I know for a fact that such people are out there.) Is it ever appropriate for the government to say, "There are certain principles regarding what it means to be American that all schoolkids should learn even if their parents disagree."
Also, at what point (if ever) should children be considered to have their own separate rights to educational opportunities? I suppose most states require that children be taught the basics (reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic), but should there be any recognized right for children to be taught contraceptive and safe-sex practices essential to their health? Or to be exposed to the theory of evolution and the scientific method? Or to have access to certain literary classics?
As a private matter and as a potential parent, I think children should have the opportunity to explore far and wide. Your mind should be considered your own, even when you are eight.