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I May Be 'Bias'ed: What are you really trying to ban?

A Tennessee school board sparked controversy last week by banning Art Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’, a graphic novel that tells Spiegelman’s father’s story surviving the Holocaust and Auschwitz, citing the book’s inappropriate language and “nudity.”

Before last week, I had never heard of the book. So, I decided to check it out. Spiegelman’s abstract story depicts Jews as mice, Nazis as cats and Poles as pigs. The “nudity” in question is naked mice. Yes, you read that right. The school board pulled this book from curriculum over naked mice.

People are understandably upset over this. Banning a book because it shows naked animals, of which are typically naked doesn’t make any sense. Instead, what people are seeing is the school board banning a book that teaches children about an extremely dark side of history, one of which children won’t learn the full extent of if not through this book, and other banned books like it.

I don’t remember learning very much about the Holocaust in school, but I remember reading Lois Lowry’s ‘Number of the Stars’ in fourth grade. I remember reading other historical fiction based around that time, and the stories they told, the details they went into. Instead of learning an overview of the entire event, I instead got to read stories about what things actually happened, stories that delved into darker parts of the Holocaust that a middle school history book won’t cover.

Tennessee isn’t the only one targeting books. Recently, Gillette, Laramie and Jackson have also been considering banning several books.

The Campbell County Library board meeting in December came to an abrupt end after a resident brought forth a book he thought should be banned, and thus started an argument with several board members over it. The book in question was “The Babysitter’s Coven” by Kate M. Williams. I haven’t read this book, but those who were worried about it feared the topics of occultism and underage drinking.

Libraries and school boards across Wyoming have become the target of complaints about books that explore LGBTQ and sexual issues – Laramie and Jackson included. Parents of Natrona County voiced their concerns over books on similar topics as well as those about slavery, sex trafficking, addiction and other themes. The thing is, that there isn’t any censoring these things in real life. These are things that readers already know about, things that they’re seeing on the internet, or learning in history class, or even hearing from each other.

While we’re on this topic, let’s circle back around to ‘Maus.’

Maus, like several other books recently, was pulled because of curriculum because of inappropriate language. Parents want books pulled over inappropriate language and nothing more.

I hate to be the one to break it to those parents, but your kids know curse words, especially any kids over the age of 10, who are roughly the age demographic ‘Maus’ is aimed toward. I understand that their worry may be that that language isn’t ‘school appropriate,’ but then they turn around and have these kids read books like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’

Speaking of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ it’s also been a topic of discussion after being banned from yet another school, this time due to “racial slurs and the perception of Atticus Finch as a ‘white savior.’”

Another popular book on the guillotine is John Green’s “Looking for Alaska,” which is being banned for “Drinking, smoking and swearing.”

“The Hate U Give” is being banned for “profanity and depiction of drug dealing, but most vigorously for its thematic connection to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.”

These are books whose demographic is high school-aged kids, and older. Last time I checked, high schoolers swear. Some of them drink and smoke and none of them are strangers to the concept. The BLM movement was all over screens all last summer. So what are you really trying to ban? Are you just trying to get rid of a book that deals with segregation and racism? One that will teach your kids darker themes then they’re used to? Or do you want them to turn a blind eye to legitimate social issues, just like you’re trying to do?

Let me put your mind at ease. Your kids wouldn’t be picking these books out to read if they couldn’t handle them. Teachers wouldn’t be handing out these books if they didn’t think your kids could handle something like this.

I get it. These books, they employ difficult and sometimes upsetting imagery to tell complicated stories. This approach is what makes them some of the most frequently challenged, or outright banned books in American schools. But, it also makes them perfect examples of what literature is supposed to do.

Literature is supposed to teach us, and take us out of our comfort zones. It’s designed to make us more open-minded and overall help us see things from a different point of view, even if that point of view is of someone who is facing oppression and other difficult problems.

What these bans are doing is censoring young people’s ability to learn about historical and ongoing injustices, which, in a world like today’s, is exactly what young people need.

Exploring complex topics through well-drawn characters lets kids contemplate morality and just aspects of the human condition, build empathy for people unlike themselves and possibly discover a mirror of their own experiences.

Parents, buy these banned books for your kids, have them read them and help them understand the real reason they were banned. Read them yourselves and see if you understand where these other parents, and school boards are coming from. You might learn more than you think.

As always, stay kind.

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