You shouldn’t read this

I’m a pretty mellow, easy-going guy. It takes a lot to get me really agitated and even more to get me down right pissed off. One thing that almost always does the trick are stories of censorship.

Apparently, a school board in West Virginia is trying to ban Pat Conroy’s books so that high school students can’t read them. (For those of you who don’t know, Pat Conroy wrote Prince of Tides, among other books.)

Fair warning: the rest of this entry is pure anger talking.

At first, I was mildly surprised by the article. I hadn’t been aware that West Virginians over the age of 18 could read. I don’t mean to single out West Virginians here; if this vile act had taken place in, say, California or New York, I would have been equally surprised at West Virginians’ literacy. Yes, I am denigrating the intelligence of those who would ban books. But only because banning books is one of the most stupid, backward, and ignorant things a person can do. I’m just reading the landscape people.

Pat Conroy called people who would ban his books “idiots”, which is succinct, but greatly understated. There are few words that come to mind right now to describe these morons, but then again, I only have the English language at my disposal. When the school board backed down from outright banning the book, they suggested labeling the book with a warning. I do have a word that describes that brave move: meretricious.

What’s the big deal? I suppose the argument can be made that a school is requiring students to read a book. The students have no choice if they want to get a passing grade. Parents who object to the subject matter (and it is always the people who would never read the book in the first place that seem to object to it) then argue that they can’t teach their own values if they can’t keep their children away from such filth.

Bullshit!

It seems to me that one of the best way to highlight one’s values is by comparing them to what else is out there. Parents who teach high moral standards to their children need only reinforce those standards by letting the children read about people who don’t meet such high standards. If you ask me, some of the characters in Pat Conroy’s books go through quite a bit of hell. It’s enough to turn rotten kid sweet. And they can gain this knowledge without actually having to stoop to the low moral level these books seems to parade.

But that’s just reason talking.

Banning a book (or a TV show or a song) is about the worst thing a parent, school board or government can do. First of all, it reinforces ignorance. Second, it teaches cowardice. Third, it instantly makes the banned object desirable. Students will begin to lust for it, wondering what could possibly be so bad that their school won’t allow them to read it. (It doesn’t hurt book sales either, I suppose.)

People speak in great tones about our freedoms and how we must defend them at all costs. Our freedom to read, to learn, to grow, is among the most precious of all and we must defend that freedom at all costs. Banning books is a cowardly, shameful act. In case that wasn’t clear to the members of the Kanawha County Board of Education: Yes, I’m calling you a bunch of cowards. And you should be ashamed of yourselves. You are cowards because you took what you felt was the easy and “expedient” way out, rather than defend the most precious of freedoms that we can pass down to our children, that of free-thought. What level of Hell is reserved for cowards? I can’t remember. I suspect that in cases where banning a book is successful, the cowardice and ignorance is ultimately passed down to the students. They learn that such behavior is acceptable. Perhaps without intending it, these school boards and parents hurt their children far more than the banned books ever would have hurt them.

If I were a senior at George Washington High School where some of this book banning is taking place, I’d remember this day. And from now into the future, when asked about what I learned in school, I’d say as loudly and widely as I could that my precious high school taught me that it was okay to be a coward, that it was acceptable to hide behind a veil of ignorance, and that it was never worth it to fight the good fight.

And I’d throw it in their faces as often as I could manage.