It’s funny, but in spite of there being no homeschooling and only the beginnings of a Christian School in town, I don’t know that ANY parent seriously challenged a book assigned in class. “But Wait! Things were simple and wholesome in the public schools of the 70s!” True, we had openly lesbian gym teachers who bought a house in our neighborhood with no one protesting and a few Moms even took casseroles over to welcome them. But in terms of books there was quite a lot to protest if you look at the times. For example–integration and busing were huge topics–and many parents did move or put their children in a private school if they could afford to do so. My small town near a college campus saw public housing integrated by two African American families and a family from India bought a house in our district–the father was a professor at the University. The son endured a lot–he was named Sirhan and Bobby Kennedy’s murder was fresh in people’s minds.
Now, too, we were seeing images of African Americans in our text books [sadly, these were often “white” faces that had been “colored” …sigh….]. While certain words had never been allowed in school, teachers corrected us anew to not say other words that had once been considered “correct” or “polite.” For me this was not new–my father was very liberal and did not allow talk like that. Some people in my extended family did not like that, but we were taught to respect and value everyone.
Suddenly we were reading books like Sounder—my school and most local schools had a field trip to go see the movie at a special showing for elementary schools. I remember being affected by Sounder–it was a depressing book in the right way–you felt for the characters in it.Children understand injustice even if they can’t put it into words. I remember being unsettled by the events in the book–wanting to know why? and how could they? And, being a pet-lover, I cried for Sounder, too.
The emotions this book evoked helped me to grow up, to dislike wrong and value right. The bad helped me to understand why the Golden Rule should guide us in life (and I came from a non-religious family).
For the record, I have on two occasions asked that my children not be made to read a certain book. I asked that because for one child it brought on PTSD and for the other my child was singled out for being “an orphan.” Both children, then in grades 5 and 3, read other books with another class. At no time did I seek to have the book removed from the curriculum or banned in any way. My children endured a lot before they came to me–they didn’t need to relive it. Sadly, this is the case with much of the literature today. There are many, many children who NEED to see the “other side.” But there are those who have lived that an need to see the other positive side.
My children went on to read other “relevant” “gritty” books with no problem and in many ways they were strengthened and helped by them. Those “other” realistic books were therapeutic. I have no idea why the one book caused problems but all the others did not. The “orphan” thing was a well-meaning teacher who over-stepped sense and sensibility and singled my child out before the whole class–my child was understandably upset at being asked what it was like to be an orphan!
Banned and Challenged Books Week is not about one parent or student asking for a different assignment. Few would ever debate that. It’s about seeking to deny access to books for ALL. Objecting to content on behalf of ALL students.
Wayne State College has a nice visual list of banned books. You can view it here.