Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Deciding what we read, what we see, and what we hear

Censorship in America is nothing new. With parents groups and other media watchdog groups decrying profanity in rock and rap lyrics, to right-wingers protesting the reading of Harry Potter novels, there are new windmills to tilt at all the time.

Back in the 1970’s, Judy Blume published her first novel, Forever, and with it, became the scourge of many parents not wanting their young daughters exposed to her frank portrayals of young girls coming to terms with their burgeoning teen sexuality.

Every generation has its own crusade to limit and remove any vestiges of reality from the lives of their children and teens. And since time immemorial, young people have done their darned-well-best to get their hands on whatever they weren’t supposed to touch.

Last year, when Blume was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, she became the first Young Adult author to receive the prestigious award. With over 30 novels in print and 75 million copies sold worldwide, the award was certainly an overdue recognition of one writer’s contribution to an important genre of literature, that being the niche category of Young Adult fiction.

Still, censorship is an issue that won’t go away. All over America, parents, religious groups and others routinely harass, harangue and lobby for the removal of books from school reading lists. Blume herself routinely makes the American Library Association’s Most Frequently Challenged Books List.

Just this past December, a group of parents in Georgetown, S.C., successfully lobbied to have Chris Crutcher's Whale Talk--about a male 17-year-old who confronts his multicultural heritage--banned from high school suggested-reading lists approved by schools and the state's school board. The author's other books that concern homosexuality and parental sexual abuse continue to be struck from reading lists.

Now I’m one of those “liberal” folks, open-minded enough to be happy that kids are reading, period! I also have a great deal of faith that with the right guidance from parents and other sensible adults, young people will be able to make their own decisions about what to read (as well as what to listen to). Part of becoming an adult is learning to discern right from wrong and develop the critical faculties to make wise choices. Heck, most adults haven’t done real well in that area, so who the hell are we to tell our kids what’s right and wrong.

Provide the guidance, model the behavior, and trust young people to figure it out. Some pretty good advice and it sure beats censorship with a stick!

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