Pat Stuart

Newspaper Columns





Cody Enterprise, December 24, 2023


To Ban or not to ban …  that is the question.

“… Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press… .”  And, so goes the First Amendment, the cornerstone of our right to say (write) what we want:  up to a point.

The wording sounds clear but is as undefined as a fluffy cloud on a sunny day in the desert.  It’s particularly difficult to cypher when we’re talking about children.  What should they have the “right” to access and what not.  Beyond that, what will they get their hands on whether we as adults in general and parents in particular think they should?  Then, there’s the question of whether or not we’re looking in the right direction when we think of book banning as a way to protect young minds and when we focus on libraries and librarians.

What about our kids?

A whole lot of us have strong opinions on the exposure kids should have to information.  Me, too.  I don’t think kids should have many “rights” at all.  Children’s brains are still forming while teen brains are developing well into the 20’s.  At the same time, they’re highly flexible and resilient and soaking up information, all of which will determine the nature and scope of their adult lives.

If we then accept the argument that someone needs to police what young minds see, we next have to tackle the issue of who gets to be the policeman.  The state?  The parents?  The politicians?  I’d go for the parents, hands down, if only there weren’t all too many parents out there who could care less … who can’t wait to see the “kid” out of the house.

I would argue, instead, that the question is moot.  Kids have a way of doing all too much that they shouldn’t, a rule that applies across generations and pretty much across the board.  Parents and society can try to control the younger, but evidence of failure is everywhere.

And does it matter?

Certainly, while I was broadly obedient, I managed to cross the t at the end of “don’t” when the spirit moved me.  That included the relatively harmless hours of reading my way through a stash of my father’s books “not meant for young eyes.”  They were trashy paperbacks kept hidden away, packed into a cardboard box in the back of a closet.  A lot of you probably did the same, using a flashlight under the covers after bedtime.

Are trashy books the problem?

Finally, there’s the question of perspective.  Face it, folks.  Books are the least of the problem.  Whether we like it or not, the world is awash in media of all kinds that any reasonably moral person regards as reprehensible and worse—media the vast majority of us would prefer to see expunged but is online and all too easily accessed.  Too much of it is violent in nature.  And, way too much of it is tries to normalize harmful and illegal activities from child pornography to human trafficking.

Will banning a few books and keeping them out of a school or public library even make a dent in the sheer volume of such material?  Does it do any good?  This morning I read about a school librarian in Florida who quit because Florida law made her responsible for the content of every one of the 11,000 books in her school’s library.  She was expected to have read every word of each as well as of the new books that came into the library.  If challenged, she could lose her job.  The pressure was too much.

And how about all those devices, social media, etc.

 But where is the equivalent pressure on the internet and how our devices work?  We hear a lot about banning books, but where are the crusades to keep unrestricted electronics out of the hands of children?  They exist, of course, but they seldom appear in the headlines.

The fact remains that, while there may be one book with objectionable material in a school or public library, most of our children can easily gain access, if they so choose, to thousands of truly nasty web sites.

I’m also not saying this is an argument for not taking great care with how we handle books in our libraries.  Our libraries and librarians should and do stand as models for what is best and true in our society.

What I am saying is that we need to keep a sense of perspective, recognize, and focus on where and through which mediums the true threats come – those that can harm and do warp young minds.

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