Poison in Our Libraries
- 2006 20 Jun
Laurie Taylor is the mother of two school-age children. She lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Like most parents, she cares about her kids' education. So, when she discovered the school library had a sexually explicit book, "It's Perfectly Normal,” aimed at elementary age students, she did what any concerned parent would do: she went to the administration and asked that it be removed, along with two other books with similar themes.
At first, school system leaders seemed to agree with Taylor, and placed the books in a "parent library" section with other books geared more to parents than to children. But when Taylor found dozens more books with sexually explicit content, and asked that they not be made available to students without parental approval, the school reneged. It overturned its earlier decision and voted to leave all of the books on the shelves with unrestricted access by the students.
Some of the books include graphic descriptions of incest, homosexuality, masturbation, bestiality, and child molestation. For instance, "Push" is the story of a young girl who is pregnant with her father's child. The local newspaper, the Northwest Arkansas Times, which opposed the effort to limit access to the book, admitted that it contained "materials that are patently offensive."
Another book is advertised as being "the most controversial young adult novel ever," and describes an adolescent boy's love affair with a teacher, and two teens who become addicted to heroin. Oh, and by the way, the book won an award as "an outstanding book for children."
Yet another book proudly displayed on the Fayetteville library shelves was once featured in Playboy magazine. Its vile and sexually explicit content is interspersed with dialogue such as this: "Just keep asking yourself: 'What would Jesus not do?'"
Once other parents learned what these books contained, many joined with Taylor in asking the school to take action. The public outcry was great. A parents' rights group was formed, "Parents Protecting the Minds of Children," with dozens of parents joining the cause. The local paper wrote that this issue generated more letters to the editor than any issue in recent history. The story of the battle of the books became the paper's story of the year for 2005.
But Fayetteville is a college town, and liberals turned out in droves to cry "censorship" and shout down Laurie Taylor's courageous efforts to protect the children.
In truth, of course, Taylor never asked that the books be banned altogether, even though that might have been appropriate under the circumstances. All Taylor and the other parents asked for was that the books be placed in a restricted access section, thereby allowing parents to exercise their God-given (and constitutionally protected) rights to oversee the moral upbringing of their children.
Arkansas, like almost every state in America, has laws protecting against the distribution of material harmful to minors. However, also like many states, the Arkansas statutes define "harmful to minors" as material that, taken as a whole, "lacks serious literary, scientific, medical, artistic, or political value for minors." Some of the books to which the Fayetteville parents object have received awards, making it more difficult to demonstrate that they lack serious literary or artistic value.
Moreover, Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe has said that any determination as to whether these books violate the harmful to minors law must be left "for a court or properly instructed jury."
The Fayetteville librarians, in accordance with the principles of the American Library Association, testified that they believed in "intellectual freedom" for all students. This sounds very noble on the surface, but what it means in practice is that the librarians do everything possible to obscure the reading habits of students – who are required by law to attend school – from any attempt by parents to learn what their children are reading. This is done by virtue of a computerized system for tracking books in circulation that automatically erases all data concerning who checked out what books immediately upon the books being returned to the library. Unless a parent actually finds her child reading an objectionable book, that parent has no way of discovering what the child has been reading.
Not Only in Arkansas
Similar battles are erupting elsewhere in the U.S. In Maine, for example, Orono High School has reaffirmed its commitment to allow the use of the sexually explicit book, "Girl Interrupted," as part of the ninth-grade English curriculum.
The novel, written by Susanna Kaysen, is not fit reading for high school students, argued many parents and local residents. "It's a book about an 18-year-old who ends up in a mental asylum and has a number of conversations with mentally disturbed people – conversations of the most graphic sort, especially sexually," said Michael Heath, head of the Christian Civic League of Maine. "The f-word [appears] 30 times on one page, and this is being given to freshmen in high school as literature. It's absolutely horrifying."
In Overland Park, Kansas, parents are organizing to protest the Blue Valley School District's inclusion in its curriculum of numerous books containing explicit material, according to WorldNetDaily. One parent, Janet Harmon, objected to a book her freshman son was reading, which contained "references to oral sex and homosexuality," she said.
The AFA Center for Law & Policy has agreed to represent Taylor and other Fayetteville parents in a federal lawsuit seeking to protect their constitutional rights to oversee the education of their children.
But it won't be easy. A federal judge in Fayettteville has recently ruled in a similar case that restricting access of library books only to students who have obtained parental permission infringes upon the First Amendment rights of the students.
This adverse ruling means that in all likelihood, in order to prevail in this matter, the case will have to be taken all the way to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – and perhaps to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Websites Provide Help for Parents Dealing with School Libraries
A number of helpful websites have been established for parents and other adults who are concerned about the content of books in their children's school libraries. A few are listed here to help parents get started, but there are a growing number of websites with valuable information. Many of them contain lists of commonly used books and samples of objectionable content, but also ideas for further action if these books are found, and links to other websites. However, visitors to these sites should be cautious, since the content of these books is extremely offensive.
Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools (Overland Park, Kansas)
Parents Against Bad Books in Schools (Fairfax, Virginia)
What should you do if you find that your school library or your child's reading requirements have begun to include books with explicit content? Parents Against Bad Books in School has some helpful options, including the following questions that a parent can ask a principal or school administrator:
What are the course/library objectives?
Were any alternative books available and/or considered to achieve the course/library objectives? If so, what were they?
What sources were consulted in identifying potential alternative books to achieve the course/library objectives?
If other books were available and/or considered, why was this book selected and all other books rejected?
If less controversial books were considered and rejected, explain why.
What is the name and position of the individual who approved the book for school system use?
Steve Crampton is chief counsel of the AFA Center for Law and Policy.
Parents Protecting the Minds of Children
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