Censorship: Who Decides?

Ken climbed into his little convertible sports car after strapping his four-year-old son, Andy, into the passenger seat. It was a perfect summer day in Denver, and a little cruise around the city sounded just right. He loved spending time with his youngest, he mused, as he turned on the radio and tapped his fingers to the beat of a disco number.


“What, Andy?”

“Why are they burning the baby?”


“In the song – why are they burning the baby?”

Ken clued into the tune and its lyrics. “Burn, baby, burn.  Disco inferno …”

“Andy, that’s just an expression. It’s what grownups say when they talk about …”

Five minutes later, Ken figured he had it covered. The two drove along in silence for a while. Then he felt a small tug on his sleeve.

“But, Dad. Why are they burning the baby?”

Sigh. So much for that brilliant teaching lecture.

Some things can’t be explained to a youngster, and in a world in which media has become more prevalent, more powerful, and largely out-of-control, the challenges for parents can seem insurmountable. Whether a song, a movie, or an age inappropriate book, children are bound to eventually get their hands, and minds, into something they should not.

Small wonder censorship, whether book banning or other media controls, has taken center stage. Parents and teachers are rightly worried about the influence of media on young minds. It’s part of what fuels the homeschooling movement, this need for parents to have some sense of control over the information their children are exposed to.

But there is another side to the coin that also needs to be addressed. How much of book banning and other media censorship really has to do with the children, and how much is simply a way to exercise control with less effort?

Book banning is not a new phenomenon and the reasons for banning a title almost always revolves around personal philosophy and control over beliefs. Here are some books that have been banned over the years, and the reasons:

Censorship: Charlotte's Web

In 2006, some parents in a Kansas school district decided that talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural; passages about the spider dying were also criticized as being ‘inappropriate subject matter for a children’s book.

Censorship: A Light in the Attic

In 1985, challengers at Cunningham Elementary School in Beloit, Wisconsin, said that A Light in the Attic “encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.”

Censorship: Captain Underpants

This series offers some great insights on when and how to disobey authority — which is one of the most important things to learn when growing up, but is clearly an issue with some parenting groups. It also is a series about imagination – that, of course, can cause all kinds of problems too!

Some of the reasons sound spurious at best. But banning and censorship aren’t necessarily bad things either. The key is the development of workable and widely accepted guidelines. Therein lies the rub. Who makes the rules? Who gets to be the censor? We’ll offer some suggestions in our next post.

What rules do you think should dictate whether a book is accepted in a school or public library? Is there a book title you would censor hands down if you had the choice? Please leave us a comment.

An author and an editor, Dani Greer brings a dual perspective to this controversial topic. A driving force behind the Blog Book Tours and The Blood-Red Pencil blogs, Dani has spent most of her life surrounded by words. She’ll return tomorrow with part two.

7 thoughts on “Censorship: Who Decides?

  1. I actually don’t have any answer for your first question, Dani, but I am glad that I don’t have to make that sort of decision. I don’t allow my children to read certain books, based upon our religious and personal beliefs, but as for a larger societal banning, I don’t know how parameters could be set in a diverse culture.

  2. I took every Constitutional law class I could during law school. My favorite was First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech, the press, religion, etc. Yes, I took a semester-long law school class about First Amendment law from one of the most respected experts on the subject, James F. Blumstein. I believe that information is power. I also believe that parents ought to weigh in heavily on the appropriateness (and amount) of the media their children consume. As I imagine you can guess, I am rather permissive with my own children, and I welcome the conversations catalyzed by the books and other media they’re exposed to. Thanks so much for your post, Dani. I am looking forward to reading tomorrow’s.

  3. I agree with Rana on this one. I am not convinced it us up to third parties to set parameters for what should or should not be read. It is a personal decision for each family and each individual. The thoughts and conversations triggered by even slightly controversial topics bring so much value why would we want to deprive kids of the opportunity to experience that. It is up to the adults in each child’s life to make sure the child is forming their own ideas about what they read.

  4. Count me in agreement with Rana – no 3rd parties get to decide. I like the way our school librarian handles it by letting students know about “Mature Content”. Sure, some kids will go for it every time, but they are usually the kids who can handle it based on our interactions with them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *