When anyone takes it upon themselves to decide what someone should — or should not — read, the censor’s motives and qualifications should be clear to everyone.
The state of Alabama has had censors in the past.
In the 1950s, a segregationist state senator attempted to ban from Alabama libraries a children’s book, The Rabbits’ Wedding, because a white rabbit was marrying a black rabbit.
Motive and qualifications were up front.
A few years ago, another state politician’s statement that certain books should be taken off the shelves caused some to suggest that our state should be renamed “Talibama.”
State Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, now has announced that he can “see no value or purpose … educational or otherwise” in Toni Morrison’s 1971 novel, The Bluest Eye. Therefore, Alabama school Superintendent Tommy Bice and the state Board of Education should remove the book from the list of “national exemplars for teaching literary concepts” to 11th graders, the senator believes.
Holtzclaw did not seek the book out himself. It was “called to his attention” by someone unnamed in his statement. Nor has he read the whole book. However, after he “reviewed excerpts” from it, he was convinced that the references to racism, incest and child molestation made it “highly objectionable” and should therefore be struck from the list.
Unlike the senator, this page does not set itself up as an authority on what books can be best used to teach literary concepts to adolescents. We leave that decision to educators and parents.
But there is more to this than Holtzclaw’s initial stance.
Holtzclaw said his intent was to get the state to “direct and control its own curriculum without out-of-state influence.”
Yes, Holtzclaw is protecting “us” from “them.” He is sending a message to those he feels are trying to impose a national reading list on us — you can’t.
The fact that teachers are not required to adopt and teach The Bluest Eye seems to make little difference to the senator, anymore than the fact that many of the “highly objectionable” themes — racism, incest and child molestation — can be found in the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, Mark Twain and Alabama’s most-loved novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
The education of our children is important. Parents should know what our children read and why they read it.
In a better world, parents would read the books their children are assigned and understand why those books are appropriate for what is being taught.
The world would be even better if politicians would read the books instead of reviewing excerpts passed along to them for reasons that have little to do with education and a lot to do with politics.
Who should parents and the public trust to decide what books should be recommended for literary concepts — educators who have read the books or politicians who have “reviewed excerpts?”