Censorship: Struwwelpeter

Censorship: Who Decides, and How?

Yesterday, I wrote a bit about book banning and censorship, and posed the question: who should be the censor?

When I was growing up, it was my mother, who was German and not particularly well-read. I grew up with books like Struwwelpeter which in my not-so-humble opinion should be banned from the planet. But my mother, who has a quite common German sense of humor (i.e. different from American humor), adores this book and continues to buy it – now for her great-grandchildren. We have argued the point, and she will never understand my view that the book is violent and offensive, even as I can’t understand where she sees any humor in the collection of stories.

Now multiply that scenario by many books, and countless families, within many community schools and libraries and you can see the challenges of finding acceptable middle ground. Because, yes, a compromise must be reached in any arena in which funding is supplied by the general public. When taxpayers are involved, the greatest number of people must be pleased by their joint expenditures. It’s perhaps an impossibility in actuality, but my point is, that should be the goal of government. I know this stance will offend many small groups on the extreme right and left of an issue, but stick with me for a moment and pretend you agree that the best way to handle censorship is by pleasing the bell curve.

In fact, that’s exactly what happens in most schools and libraries, where censorship is already firmly in place. Because of limited resources, an endless pool of product opportunities, and extreme pressures from the public, most facilities acquire materials based on a relatively conservative and mainstream set of criteria. Once those products are acquired, and if budget remains, other materials with possibly more controversial and narrow themes, might be addressed.

The question is, how should challenged books and other media be presented to the public? The easiest solution is for libraries and schools to simply not carry any challenged materials at all. Then parents of children who do want their children to have access to banned books could buy their own and make reading them a family project.

Censorship: who decides?

But this puts a burden on families who can’t afford their own book budgets and who rely solely on libraries and schools for their reading materials.

In that case, the schools and libraries could have a separate closed and monitored reading section that requires special parental authorization for access. That’s an added administrative burden for librarians and even parents, but it’s a solution that attempts to protect certain children, while still allowing access to broader materials and ideas to other children. Again, it’s a matter of parental supervision which I believe is key to this debate.

What about you? Can you think of any solutions that might please most of the people, most of the time? Please leave us a comment!

Also, be sure to mark your calendars and think of ways your family can participate in Banned Books Week from September 21-27. Here’s the link to the American Library Association site. You can also connect with them on Facebook and Pinterest.

Dani Greer is a writer and book editor, as well as the driving force behind the popular Blood-Red Pencil blog. She runs a Facebook support group for authors promoting new books that you can join by clicking here. You can also connect with her on Twitter

7 thoughts on “Censorship: Who Decides, and How?

  1. When I think about the value and purpose of a library everything about banning a book runs contrary to it. And when a book is banned that makes it a MUST READ for me because if there’s an idea or presentation of rogue thought that someone wants to keep from me then I want to know what it is and why.

    I don’t know of a solution other than parents monitoring the reading material their children bring home and discussing it with them. Barring that, we are simply allowing kids too much leeway. We do it with music and movies and other media. Books seem to be off-limits and I have never understood that.

  2. I agree, Kelly. The responsibility always falls back on parental shoulders. But in America, more than 50% of families are run by single heads of households, and a large portion by women who are already underpaid and overworked. It’s not a logical solution to place the burden on those tired shoulders, is it? That’s just another part of an already complicated equation. I also agree that children have way too much leeway especially in acquiring all that information, and I do believe the old computer industry adage: garbage in, garbage out. I don’t know any way to keep the garbage out except through censorship. But I welcome other ideas!

  3. Censorship is hard and I am afraid to even suggest it. Maybe a separate rating system for elementary school/pre-school. Old fashioned books such as the one mentioned; there are many others with violent, racist or sexist themes that were accepted in the past, should not be banned, but kept in adult libraries. We should not lose the history of how books and our culture have evolved.

  4. A thorny subject, Dani … and not one that allows me a glib response … and you know I hate to be serious. As obnoxious, offensive, repellant or abhorrent books … or other forms of communication can be, censorship makes me cringe. I’ve always subscribed to the theory that it is up to parents … single, pairs, or whatever … to instill values in their children, then let children decide for themselves what is appropriate reading … or viewing material. It is impossible … and impractical … to monitor everything they are exposed to … you have to rely on their judgment. If there is continuous and open dialog they should be able to discuss things they are exposed to that might be contrary to those values. You can ask how did it make them feel? What did they think about it? They have to learn to decide for themselves what is appropriate and what is not. Thems my thoughts on an important and unfunny issue.

  5. I think the responsibility is on the parents, plain and simple. I don’t see a way that it can be done any other way, practically or sustainably.

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