“Do you think school libraries should offer ‘Hustler’? “
“No of course not!”
“OK, so you are in favor of ‘censorship’ as well. Now we are just negotiating where to draw the line.
A good friend (and fervent libertarian) uses this imaginary dialogue to make an important point. Even those of us who see ourselves as free speech absolutists have to draw our limits somewhere. I have spent my entire adult life in two fields of work, journalism and education, both of which have an immune response to censorship. But I am more and more sympathetic to line designers.
Frankly, I do not find any perennial and intractable arguments about canonical literary works so convincing. We’ve had over a century to decide whether or not “Huckleberry Finn” belonged to school libraries or English classes, so it’s clear that no resolution is within reach. I also don’t expect the next 100 years to decide whether “Beloved,” “Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Seeker in the Rye,” or other frequently contested works are on the program.
The most difficult front in wars of censorship concerns new and relatively obscure works aimed at readers, from infants to young adults, who cannot claim canonical status. These new works are published, promoted and defended on the basis of “authenticity and inclusiveness”. To question them – to draw a line – is to risk an accusation of ignorance, fanaticism or worse.
Editors of young adult novels have pounced on each other in recent years to release controversial texts on the themes of sexual abuse, racism, domestic violence, gang life, school shootings and more. other “realistic” subjects, in widely read books like “” The Hate U Give “,” Thirteen Reasons Why “and” The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian “.
Picture books for small children are even more confusing. I’m old enough to remember the controversies that followed “Heather Has Two Mommies” in 1989 and “And Tango Makes Three” in 2005, which sought to normalize gay and lesbian family structures.
This push for normalization is now going to sobering limits for age adequacy reasons, even for parents who see themselves as progressive. “How Moms Love Their Babies,” for example, is described by Kirkus Reviews as “incredibly inclusive” and the first to portray a sex worker parent. One illustration shows a stripper at a peep show with the text: “Some moms dance the night away with special shoes on. It’s hard work! ”The School Library Journal recommends it for“ serious consideration ”for children in Kindergarten to Grade 4.
The School Library Journal also praised and recommended the “What Are Your Words? A book on pronouns ”, which“ models the ease with which our language can adapt to gender diversity and the use of pronouns ”. For toddlers, the familiar children’s song “The Wheels on the Bus” has been rewritten as “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish”.
“Why is this kind of awake content pushed so hard into children’s books? Conservative cultural critic Bethany Mandel asked in a recent tweet about the aforementioned picture books. “In short: everyone in the pipeline is awake. Book agents, authors, publishers, marketing. Anyone who is not is silenced. And who buys it? Librarians and teachers. Also infested with alarm clock.
She’s not wrong, especially about the increasingly harsh criticisms of those wondering if all of this (to use an expression suddenly visible in her absence) is age-appropriate. This confluence of impulses, the sincere desire to signal to children that everyone is well and that anything goes, makes conflict inevitable.
Instead, we need to reaffirm that you are not a homophobe if you don’t want your child exposed to explicit illustration of oral sex like in the graphic novel ‘Gender Queer’. You are also not a white supremacist if you doubt the wisdom of exposing young children to the racist picture book “Not My Idea.” A book on whiteness ”, which concludes:“ Whiteness is a bad deal. It always has been.
Maybe that’s where you draw the line. And there is nothing wrong with doing it.
Robert Pondiscio is a senior researcher at the American Enterprise Institute (aei.org), a right-wing think tank in Washington, DC.