December 15, 2021

Kathie Obradovich: Book banning isn’t about protecting children; it’s adult political posturing

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Kathie Obradovich is editor of the Iowa Capital Dispatch. In this editorial, she responds to the growing wave of book banning and Iowa’s GOP plan to make sharing naughty books a felony. She begins by remembering her own growth as a young reader.

I read lots of books that had been “banned” or censored in other places, ranging from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” to Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.” Some, I discovered on my own. Others, like John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” were required reading in class. These books have been criticized for mature themes, salty language and the like. But they were also windows into the lives of people I could never have imagined, let alone experienced.

Then there was a book that I first received in elementary school and even today have several copies in my home. It includes references to torture, murder, adultery, unwed pregnancy, fratricide, infanticide, incest, idolatry, sodomy (and Gomorrah). You see where I’m going with this. “The Holy Bible” also shows up on the banned book lists and has, throughout history, been used to justify all kinds of atrocities.

So often, it’s a matter of context — something that people who want to ban or censor books often have trouble grasping. They get all outraged about a few passages someone posted on the internet and march off with their torches and pitchforks to the school board without considering the broader message, artistic merit or educational potential of the entire work.

I suspect many of these parents who want to shield their precious darlings from LGBTQ content or race-related themes have no problem with exposing them to extreme violence and sexual content on television and in video games. Book-banning is rarely about protecting children. It’s about adult political posturing.

I haven’t read “The Hate U Give” or “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian,” but I congratulate the Johnston School Board for refusing to remove the titles from classrooms. Parents, who are well-equipped to assess the maturity level of their own children, can opt out of having them read certain books in class. But they should not be allowed to decide what’s best for every other child.

Neither should state legislators, but it sounds like some of them may try. Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman, an Adel Republican, said at a Johnston school board meeting last month that teachers who give “obscene” books to students should face felony charges.

It’s already a serious misdemeanor to disseminate obscene material to minors. Nobody has suggested any of the teachers or librarians providing any of these controversial books to students be charged under the existing statute, probably because none of the works would qualify as “obscene” under U.S. Supreme Court standards.

Read the entire editorial here.

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