There's a buzz in the blogosphere about this article by Dr. Wesley Scroggins. I can't say that I've actually read any of the books in question, but I support teens' right to do so. Censorship has no place in our schools (unless we're talking about outright pornography, which we're not; there's a difference between including sex in order to teach and including sex in order to titillate).
It's unfortunate that the books that are so often targeted for bans are the ones about important subjects such as racism, sexism, sexuality, rape, violence, and tolerance. Scroggins claims that "children at the middle school are being introduced to concepts such as homosexuality, oral sex, anal sex and specific instructions on how to use a condom and have sex". He's incredibly naive if he thinks that eighth-grade kids (13- and 14-year olds) are just being introduced to these concepts. My question to him would be, "When is it appropriate to teach kids about these things?" After they've bullied other kids for years because of their (or their parents') sexuality? After they've been pressured into a situation they know little about? After they've gotten (or gotten someone) pregnant?
A few years ago, there was a local book banning case that caught everybody's attention. The Surrey School District tried to ban three children's books from the classroom. The teacher, James Chamberlain, wanted to use the books to teach his young pupils about diversity and tolerance. The fight went on for years, cost over $1.2 million in taxpayer dollars, and made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Luckily, the judge presiding over the case was much more open-minded than the intolerant board members of S.D. 36. In making her ruling, Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin found that "Tolerance is always age-appropriate, children cannot learn unless they are exposed to views that differ from those they are taught at home."
The books in question were Asha's Mums by Rosamund Elwin and Michele Paulse; Belinda's Bouquet by Leslea Newman; and One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads by Johnny Valentine. Hardly offensive (in my opinion), but keep in mind that the people involved in trying to ban these books had also tried to keep books about Halloween, Wicca, and native-Indian spirituality (and in the culturally rich Pacific Northwest, no less!) out of the schools, as well as preventing students from watching An Inconvenient Truth because the views in it might not actually be the truth. So much for the possibility of open discussion and debate.
We need more books about tough subjects, we need kids to read them, and we need to get kids talking about them. Understanding leads to tolerance and tolerance leads to a better world for all of us. Schools need to be encouraging students to read books about difficult issues, especially since so much bigotry and intolerance are learned at home. Why should we be reinforcing those things by trying to ban certain books in the schools?
Teaching kids about drugs, sex, and where babies come from isn't going to make them run out and smoke a joint, have sex, and get knocked up. On the other hand, if you keep them ignorant for too long, they might just want to see what all the fuss is about. The same goes for the books in question; I'm now far more curious about them than I've ever been before... and I'm sure I'm not the only one. By trying to ban these books, Dr. Scroggins is actually encouraging more teenagers to read them. I don't think that's the effect he was going for!