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Nick Smith of the Pasadena Public Library on 'SideScrollers' GN Removal

'Censorship in Schools and Libraries is a Very Real Issue'

Published: 09/13/2012 05:08pm
Nick Smith of the Pasadena Public Library in Pasadena, California read Ed West's response to the SideScrollers graphic novel being removed from a ninth grade summer reading list (see  "Ed West on 'SideScrollers' GN Removal" and "'SideScrollers' Graphic Novel Removed from Summer Reading List").
 
Ed West makes some very good points.  It is true that any community has the right, both morally and legally, to apply community standards.  Making those decisions, if applied consistently, is not inherently censorship.  It should also be the right of any parent to guide the reading choices of their own children.  To some extent I even agree with his point about R. Crumb's artistic excesses, and have voted with my dollars.  For my own collection, I simply don't buy the books I don't like.  Mr. West has that same right, as does everyone else.
 
Unfortunately, that fails to address two of the questions which came to mind in the SideScrollers case.  The first, of course, is whether those community standards really were being violated by the inclusion of this book as an option.  At this point, what we know is that the school board bowed to the pressure of what might have been a single parent.  Should the wishes of that parent really prevail over those of other parents, who did not object to the material?  Remember, the book was not required reading.  It was being offered as one of a number of optional books suggested for that grade level.  Was the parent really objecting to language, to the "anatomically correct" giraffe, or to some other issue contained within the book?  Thus far, the articles have not made that clear.  Also, while I am not a particular fan of profanity in conversation, if the character being portrayed in a story really would use profanity, then forcing another form of speech into the character's mouth will be stilted and clumsy, and will read that way.  As painful as it may sound, well-written profanity may be preferable to badly-written clean dialogue.
 
The second issue is whether the school board did make their decision in a manner consistent with its own policies.  If, instead, the board simply pulled the book as a matter of expediency, without considering the material or the issues raised, then it would indeed be an act of censorship, and a clumsy one.  In effect, one parent has acted in loco parentis for everyone else's families.  To me, that does not seem like a desirable situation.
 
Unfortunately, censorship in schools and libraries is a very real issue.  What offends one person may be entertaining or educational to ten others, but if the one offended person controls the situation, then everyone suffers.  If it IS a matter of censorship, then we are all diminished when it occurs.  Whether the book removed is Fahrenheit 451, or Catcher in the Rye, or Harry Potter… or SideScrollers… then people are being prevented from exercising their will and their desires.
 
The opinions expressed in this Talk Back are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
 
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