Vice wants us to follow the horror of how a book gets banned from school and or public libraries in America. The description of the process seems to be quite large numbers of people taking careful consideration and considerable time to work out whether the book in question is suitable indeed for the clients and customers of the library.
Apparently, this isn’t good enough for books that Vice thinks should be available.
“Documents show the step-by-step process that gets a book banned from schools: All it takes is an anonymous letter, a principal underlining words like ‘condom,’ and some poorly written policies,” according to the piece.
The thing is, that’s not the process they go on to describe.
The book in question here is “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson,” which contains at least a couple of fairly graphic descriptions of gay sex. Which may or may not be suitable for younger readers (it’s a “young adult” novel) but then that’s what the library system is trying to decide upon. The process was that one high school principal starts the process indeed. This starts with a review request. Then a meeting of the curriculum council where she presents her case against. Then evidence is given in favor, including a slide presentation.
The objection wasn’t to the existence of writing about gay sex – but perhaps not in a public school library collection. That principal also pointed out that she thought those who were to make the decision should read the book as a whole, not depend upon her extracts, excerpts or even opinions.
There’s always going to be some system that decides what is in a public school library. This looks like a fairly exhaustive system. Perhaps Vice just didn’t like the result rather than the process?
Vice is a significant media outlet these days. The cable TV channel reaches 60 million American households, the magazine has a 900,000 distribution. The site itself gains some 25 million visits a month.
The question we’ve always got about these complaints of book banning. Two of the most argued about – attempts to ban them – are Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird. Would that system of careful consideration be acceptable if it had led to the banning of those two? Then it’s not the system that’s being complained about, is it? It’s the decisions reached about a specific book.
And we can really test that argument to destruction by considering the original version of Huck Finn with Huck’s description of the escaped slave, Jim. But even to extend the argument that far is to know that it’s the decision that is being complained about, isn’t it, not the system of reaching it.