Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Elementary School Book Censorship

Eric Muller is upset about some books in his child's public elementary school library that have a decidedly pro-evangelical Christian slant at the expense of Buddhism and Islam, and has asked that they be removed from the school's bookshelves because of their "overtly sectarian and proselytizing theme."

I understand his discomfort. When she was in the fourth grade, my older daughter brought home The Golden Compass, the first part of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman has said that he writes with an explicit goal: "to undermine the basis of Christian belief." He is apparently a particular hater of C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series of children's books.

I didn't make my daughter stop reading the book or ask that it be removed from her Catholic school library. But we had a long talk about the book and the author's point of view and intentions, of which she had been quite unaware.

I wonder: would Eric also want to pull Lewis's Narnia series from the shelves? That series is at least as proselytizing as the ones Eric objected to, though covertly so. (Maybe that's worse?) Or what about His Dark Materials? It has an explicitly pantheist point of view. Are Neo-Pagan books to be pulled, too?

Bad idea. When you start pulling books from the school library shelves, you end up with shelves full of very dull books.


Roch101 said...

Agreed, David. Censorship not a good idea.

Rob Ainbinder said...

Yikes! I agree as well David. Censorship is bad. I wonder what would have happend to the founding of our educational system in America had the New England Primer been removed from use?

I grew up with a different (Judaic) religious perspective than my Roman Catholic public school classmates.

Nothing postive would have come from my Mom demanding all the mentioned books in your post be removed. I'd have missed the chance to explore comparative religions for myself. And yet, I still managed to turn out (by most) as a decent human. ;-)

Anonymous said...

The solution to his dislike of that book is not to remove it. Instead, if he finds a book he doesn't like, he should donate one he does like. This is just good for everybody.

Eric Muller said...

I think you've missed some crucial facts about this matter on my blog. My complaint focuses not on the mere presence of the books in the elementary school library, but on the facts that (a) the books are effectively required reading (by virtue of their inclusion in the "Accelerated Reader" program), and (b) the books are assigned without any teacher or librarian guidance or interaction. The students simply read the books on their own in the library and then go over to a computer and take a reading comprehension test. There is no guidance, no instruction, no context, nothing. Just 3rd graders on their own, reading that Christianity is truth and Buddhism and Islam are confusing and bad.

I do think there's a case that these books do not belong in the library at all. What, after all, is their secular value or purpose? (Please go to my blog and read the summary of "Escape to Egypt" before answering.) An academic reviewer of "Escape to Egypt" gives it an "advisory" rating, and for "adolescents." See http://www.h-net.msu.edu/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=9335885512674

But even if the books stay in the elementary school library (where there is nary an adolescent in sight), surely you must agree that these books have no business on a list of required, unsupervised reading books.

David Wharton said...

Eric, though your blog posts make very clear that you object to the context in which the books are assigned and read, they also make clear that you object to the books' mere presence in the library and have asked that they be removed from the school. You could have asked that they be removed only from the Accelerated Reader shelf, after all.

My family's experience with The Golden Compass is similar to yours with Journey to Japan. It was read without supervision for extra reading credit and prizes. The His Dark Materials trilogy of which it is a part is vehemently and openly hostile to monotheism in general and to the Christian church in particular.

Was I wrong therefore not to ask that it be removed from the school's library? And now that you know its contents, will you ask that it, too, be removed from your child's school (if it's there)?

As to the secular value or purpose of the books you want removed -- well, obviously they can help kids learn to read better.

Now I'd like you to answer the questions I asked in my post, if you would.

Darrell said...

Earlier, Eric wrote:

There is no guidance, no instruction, no context, nothing. Just 3rd graders on their own, reading that Christianity is truth and Buddhism and Islam are confusing and bad.

Eric, has it crossed your mind that the most important guidance your child could receive, on this and all other matters, is from her parents? Surely you’re not relying on librarians, teachers, etc, to raise your child. You’re aware of the presence of the books, you’re aware of how your child is tested on what she’s read… have you considered discussing the books with your daughter?

It amazes me that conservatives are seen as the ornery, iron-fisted censors in this country. In my experience, it’s always the liberals who believe that the best way to counter ideas they don’t agree with is to silence them.

Anonymous said...

But it's funny that you've never heard of a bunch of liberals lynching black folks, or silencing gay men with thier fists or baseball bats. Have you ever heard of an organized effort by liberals to squash the voice of women arguing for equal rights? equal pay? How many times have you seen a book burning on the news sponsored by a liberal organization? I could go on, and on, and on... The FACT is that certain elements of the extreme right are not that far off from certain elements of the extreme left - there are a full circle of positions to take on most issues. Liberals in general tend to promote tolerance and diversity. Conservatives do not. I agree that it's a parents responsibility to help guide their children through sometimes uncomfortable situations. That's life - look around... there is a lot of explaining to do. What we need to be VERY cautious of is proselytizing in our schools. That is completely unacceptable to me, and should be for all parents. Opening it up for one group means any religious organization on the planet should now be able to have the same access to our children. That is wrong. That is where your arguement crumbles to pieces.

Nice blog by the way. I appreciate your position.

- Mike

David Wharton said...

Mike, you say, "Liberals in general tend to promote tolerance and diversity."

Then you say, "Opening it up for one group means any religious organization on the planet should now be able to have the same access to our children. That is wrong."

Hmmmm...I guess liberal tolerance and diversity stop at the schoolhouse door when it comes to religion?

Anonymous said...

I don't think you are really getting it... Do you want freaks like this ( http://www.rightnation.us/forums/lofiversion/index.php/t80058.html ) to have free access to your childs mind? Because if one group has free access, ALL groups must have free access. Maybe that's fine for the rights of the KKK to march in Washington - but don't play politics and mess with the same formula for schools and our children.

Since you really didn't counter anything in my first post - I'll assume you have nothing and understand that I'm 100% correct on all counts. And what about all the right wing freaks who actually disown their own children who are brave enough to come out as gay? ... tolerance on the right?! Dude, you've got a HUGE amount of work ahead of you if you want to make that arguement. Proselytizing near my child is an unacceptable attempt to brainwash them. It's not the role of the schools or any stranger to educate about religion. It's an entirely secular institution - and for very good reason. It's a parents decision to expose their child to religion - or not...

David Wharton said...

Well, I didn't respond to most of the stuff in your first comment because it consisted of generalizations about liberals and conservatives that had nothing to do with this thread. Don't mistake my not responding to it as assent.

You made a specific claim about liberal tolerance, however, and I (assuming you're a liberal) asked whether your tolerance of different religions stopped at the schoolhouse door.

I'll take your answer as a "yes".