Imagine for a moment that I am happily married and have a lovely 12-year-old child who likes doing jumps and learning tricks on his BMX bike. Because we don’t have billions of dollars, we can’t afford to buy our imaginary child the best BMX bikes, but we’re very fortunate to live in a town with an awesome bike library where kids can go to borrow all kinds of bikes. Tandem bikes. Normal street bikes. Bikes with little bells and baseball cards in the spokes. Pink bikes with little tassels and red bikes with racing stripes. They also carry BMX bikes. You know, the kind with the little metal poles on them for grinding and what not. I may not fully understand BMX bikes or why my child wants to jump off boards leaned up against cement parking stops or grind off rails, and so on (well, I do, because I did similar things as a kid, but let’s pretend otherwise for now), but we’ve talked talked about such things and we’re there for our child when he or she needs us.
You’ve got the image in your head now, right? Happy little kid doing semi-dangerous tricks on a bike, falling and hurting him or herself, talking to mommy and daddy (or daddy and daddy, as is always possible in any analogy) and learning life lessons, as is the domain of parents?
Good. Now I want you to imagine this: my next door neighbor, who may be a man or a woman, but almost always a very grumpy, controlling person, wanders over and tells my child that they aren’t allowed to ride on BMX bikes, because they are dangerous and inspire dangerous behaviors
and what not. My child, obviously, ignores these people and continues pursuing BMX biking, until those grumpy neighbors show up at Town Hall and try to get BMX bikes banned from the bike library using the same argument. After all, kids shouldn’t be BMX biking! It’s dangerous. They could get hurt or scarred or something, right? And the grumpy people don’t want their kids exposed to that kind of thing.
The rest of us cry “censorship,” while they say “well, it’s just parenting.” Let’s pretend that the dictionary has nothing to say on this matter.
With all that in your mind, what do you think I would say to such people?
If you guessed “please, go fuck yourself,” then you would be right.
Your job as a parent ends with your child. You have no right telling my child what he or she can have access to (or say the same to me), nor do you have a right to remove materials from publicly accessible spaces in order to fulfill your narrow moral agenda or to tell me, as a parent, what I am allowed to give my child. (This does not extend to materials which are illegal, such as child pornography.)
As the parent of three avid readers, I agree with Meghan Cox Gurdon’s point that what is considered “banning” in the book trade is known in the parenting world as doing our job.
I have to say: get your parenting off my metaphorical child and please, go fuck yourself.
Parenting is the act of monitoring what your child does and access to. It does not extend to monitoring my child’s access to materials, whatever those materials may be. You are certainly allowed to tell me that I cannot molest or rape my child, or sacrifice them for a religious ceremony, lock them in the basement without food, beat them, and so on. You have that right because those behaviors are detrimental to the well-being of the child. But reading a book only has detrimental consequences when people who are supposed to be parents fail to act like parents when their children are exposed to things beyond their scope of knowledge. This is precisely why the furor over Janet Jackson’s semi-nipple slip elicited absurdity. Parents weren’t really concerned about a boob being on the TV; if they were, they would have been upset with the overt sexual nature of Janet Jackson’s entire set at the Super Bowl. No, what they were pissed about was the fact that they suddenly could not avoid having to be parents when little Timmy or Jenny wondered what had happened on the screen. And I have no doubt that this is the same kind of policy of avoidance that governs book bannings.
I don’t see much point in going into the substance of Freeman’s post. Most of her arguments are either anecdotal or contain serious errors of logic. For example, she frequently sites how young adults who are starving don’t want to read books about starvation (she actually calls them children, which is another issue I’ve railed against). That may or may not be true. I don’t know. But that doesn’t mean that other young adults don’t want to read a book about other young adults battling starvation. This is a piss poor example precisely because reading such a book might make a young adult more willing to do something about it. People have been compelled by literature to do less and more, and if something good comes from reading a book on suffering, it doesn’t seem to me that there is much of a problem.
But when it comes down to it, what Freeman and Gurdon do is argue by fallacy (reading dark books will destroy young minds, even though I’ve yet to see a study that conclusively supports this assertion), reduce young adults to lesser people (i.e., calling them children), and arguing for censorship by way of claiming that book banning is parenting.
And to such people I can only repeat myself: please, go fuck yourself and keep your parenting within your family.
Or if you’ll accept a severe reduction, there’s this comment by Jenni Langlois:
Restricting what your children read? Parenting.
Restricting what I read? Censorship.
See the difference?