Tuesday, November 6th, 2007 at 7:49 am in Schools.
Two parents want the Mt. Diablo school board to ban the book, “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, because of its graphic depictions of suicide and death. (For more about this, read Shirley Dang’s article in the Times.) The fictional subject matter is weighty: it’s about a society where couples are allowed only two children and elderly are given lethal injections. Of course, it’s hardly the first controversial book to push the limits, spark debate and rally parents with a call for censorship. And there are a handful of books slated for pre-teens that I wouldn’t want my 10-year-old stepdaughter reading.
That said, I wouldn’t prohibit her from reading any book, in her age group, that she wanted to read. I’m a journalist, which means I’m a huge advocate for the First Amendment. Beyond that, I also believe strongly in free choice. Ironically, that’s what this book is all about. When free choice is taken away, how does society respond? Too mature for pre-teens? Absolutely not. The real problem, as I see it, is that we parents are trying so hard to shield our children that we leave them ill-prepared to face the real world.
Sometimes it’s small deficiencies: the college student who can’t use a washing machine or only knows how to cook in the microwave. Sometimes it’s much bigger: the 11-year-old who gets a sexually transmitted disease because she didn’t know oral sex is sex. Instinctively, we want to protect our children. There would be nothing wrong with that, if the rest of the world fell in line with our way of thinking. The reality is that children are victims of violence, exposed to sex and drugs and made to deal with grown-up problems well before they should.
Which brings us back to “The Giver.” Two parents want it pulled from school libraries. They don’t want it on the approved reading list and taught in middle school classrooms. They fail to recognize this as a golden opportunity to engage in thoughtful conversation with their children. If they’re concerned about their children not learning how suicide is wrong, then read the book along with them. They could take a half hour to talk about what’s written and express their viewpoints. Arguing to ban a book only makes it that much more tempting to a pre-teen. And in this day and age, it’s likely those kids will find a way to get their hands on it. Do we really want them reading a book without any discussion afterwards? To me, that’s far more dangerous.