Banned Books, another day
I wrote a couple of days ago about a news story that ran in my local newspaper. It concerned the Etowah, Tennessee, school board's decision to remove a book from its school library, and even from the school grounds altogether, based on what seems to be a single complaint by a parent.
I reprint some of the Daily Post Athenian
story. The bold sections and numeration are what I've added for emphasis:
ETOWAH BOOTS BOOK, SAYING ITS CONTENT TOO ADULT
By: BEN BENTON Staff Writer
ETOWAH — Although no action was required  a fictional book at Etowah City School has been removed after parents registered a complaint with the school about its content.
Parents Vic and Jane Wooten formally asked that the book “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” be taken from the school’s library.
Teacher Sharon Ordonez said the book was not actually a library book but had been purchased for use in a specific reading group.
“It was never on the shelves (at the library),” she said. 
Ordonez and Director of Schools David Green assured Board members and the Wootens the book was no longer in the school.
The Wootens filled out a “Citizen’s Request for Reconsideration of Media” and attached two pages of excerpts from the book as evidence of its “immorality through language, teen-age drinking and sexual activities.”
The Wootens stated they believed the book was only appropriate for students who are college age. 
“In no way is this book appropriate for children of any age,” the Wootens stated in the Request. “I would hope we would uphold a higher standard for our children. Public schools should not promote or present material which teaches our children foul language, teen-age sex, teen-age drinking or any other immoral behaviors.”
The excerpts cited by the Wootens included conversations in quoted dialogue, some of it in adult language, between teens about the temptations of youth, including sex and drinking.
School Board Chairman Jeff Williams said he was concerned about the presence of the book in the school and called for such matters to be addressed “in a much more timely manner.”
“There were some items in this book that I wasn’t comfortable with as a parent, as a School Board member,” said Williams.
Board member Phil Waycaster questioned whether there were policies in place to prevent such books from entering the school.
“What we might want to consider is looking at the policy,” Waycaster said. “Maybe we need to get more people to look at this kind of thing. The more people we have involved in it, the better.”
Board member Daniel Tallent suggested that all the books in the library be reviewed.
“Are we comfortable that no more (questionable books) exist in our library?” Tallent asked. 
Ordonez said “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” wasn’t a library book and that it wasn’t on the school’s reading lists. The book wasn’t made generally available to students. She noted the book has been on many national recommended reading lists, however.
“I don’t think this book should ever be read,” Vic Wooten interjected.
Here's the whole article,
if you want to read about other issues related to Etowah's school.
I'm getting really sick of this. Whether it's on a national level, something like the Janet Jackson flashing incident, or uproar overt the Terrell Owens/Nicolette Sheridan vignette which ran before this last Monday Night Football game. Or it's on the local level, with people Mr. Wooten proclaiming "I don't think this book should ever be read," in reference to anything that doesn't pass muster of what they believe to be good, moral and upright. I realize that this sort of pushy pseudo morality has always been around, but when you start banning books, any books, it really gets under my skin.
A couple of points I wanted to make, in reference to the bold sections I numbered.
: I'm hopeful you read the whole article, but in case you didn't, it ends with the Etowah School Board not only agreeing to make sure the book is removed from the school, but also pondering whether there needs to be more action taken to make sure there aren't more objectionable materials in the schools....even though NO ACTION WAS NEEDED.
(As an aside, I realize that it's poor form to correct another person's grammar and verbage, but this one bugged me: "fictional book" is a poor constructed phrase. "Book of fiction," is awkward, but works better, since fictional book implies that the book isn't real, but rather fictional. Simply saying "book" would have been better, and "novel" would have been best of all).
: This was the first thing that bugged me. The book wasn't available to the general student public at the school. There was no danger of some random, hapless child picking up the evil, evil, dirty book. The book was brought into the school for a specific group, and was not available to the public. This wasn't enough for Vic and Jane Wooten. They not only want to rob their own child of an education (as is their right), but other kids, as well.
: The Wootens believe that the book is appropriate college age readers, and above. Even though the writer, publisher, bookstores and all the book reviewers I've seen, praise the book as a good read for Young Adults. I found the book in the Teen Reader section at the Books a Million last night. Seems that the majority of people believe otherwise. Yet we've decided to listen to Mr. Wooten's opinion, and based on his suggestion alone, we've banned the book.
: This part really burns me up. See, it would be one thing if it was some misguided fear of litigation from the Wootens that was driving this move. But the board members are frothing at the bit to get not only this book, but also any others that they deem objectionable. The phrase they use is "questionable." To me, the content of just about any book is "questionable." That's kinda what's so great about literature, that you can question what it means and the purpose for which it's meant. But obviously, questionable means "not evil, dirty, or dealing with sex or drinking."
It's cliched to say so, but lots of books were questionable to the Nazis, too. Also, the communists.
: Again Mr. Wooten chimes in that this sort of thing "shouldn't ever be read." By anyone, apparently. Mr. Wooten apparently wishes that he got to dictate morality. Because the world's a bad place, and it's books like this, and moreover, people reading the book, that make it a bad place.
My main problem, aside from the Etowah School Board's froggy jump to get rid of the book, is the larger issue of not being able to see the forest for all the trees.
I'll be the first to tell you that there are a lot of problems in this here world, and this here America that we live in.
I'm sorry, a coming of age story in which youngsters learn to deal with some of those problems IS NOT one of those problems.
I haven't read the book. I desperately want to. Even if I'm not in the intended demographic audience. Everything I've read points to the book being an intelligent yet entirely accessible story of young people much like those who would be reading the book learning about the world and learning how to deal with the problems that any of us would face.
And I can't see how that's anything but a good thing.
(Please, please correct me if I'm wrong on the book's content or intent, anybody who's read the book--that's why I asked the other day....)
My point in all this:
Mr. Wooten's intent is good. I believe that. I understand the urge to protect and all that.
But he, and the Etowah School Board, are misguided in their actions.
Instead of hiding the book from the kids, and making sure that it's not read by anybody in the school, as parents you chould be seeing this as an opportunity for communication with the kids.
If the parents took an active role in the education of their kids (now I'm being foolish, I realize...) and talked with their kids and taught them how to deal with difficult and trying material, instead of effectively sticking their heads in the sand, we wouldn't leave them so ill-equipped to deal with something truly dangerous in life, when it does (and will) come along.
But the worse part is that it doesn't teach kids about right and wrong. It teaches only that if you scream long and loud enough, you'll get your way. And I'd say that in the real world, you don't always get your way, except that in this case, Mr. Wooten got his.
Ah well. I'm just ranting to hear myself rant, I guess. I don't have kids in school. If I did, I don't live in Etowah. But if I did, and they went to an Etowah school, I'd have to think long and hard before considering whether Misters Tallent and Waycaster need to be governing my kids' educations.
Sadly, I'm thinking more and more, these folks are more and more in the majority in their thinking, especially in my little corner here in East Tennessee.
Anyway. I'm just Big Stupid Tommy. But y'all do me a favor, and think about it.