December 18th, 2006

HP-Harry Reading

Banning Books

In a recent MSN article, it was reported that a Georgia parent may appeal the Georgia Board of Education's decision to deny her request that the Harry Potter books be removed from Gwinnett County School Library shelves. Her claim was that the books promote witchcraft and blah blah blah. The book has been challened a lot, and it generally comes down to nothing, as noted in the article:

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, published by London-based Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, have been challenged 115 times since 2000, making them the most challenged texts of the 21st Century, according to the American Library Association.

But that isn't the part of the article that interests me. It is the next paragraph that leaves me thinking hard about what kinds of people should be allowed to be parents (emphasis mine):

The challenges most often claim that the series encourages children to question adult authority and promotes witchcraft, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the deputy director for the association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

I'm sorry, WHAT? I think that there's a legitimate argument to be had that it is our job as parents to teach our children to question authority. While children should remain respectful of the adults around them, they should also learn that sometimes authority figures are wrong and sometimes the only way to get to the truth is to challenge authority (in a respectful and safe manner, of course). I'm not saying our children should go off and learn that stunning their teachers and classmates is a good idea, but since none of our children happen to have magic wands, I don't think that's really an issue.

How much of our history do I have to point to in order to make the point that sometimes challenging authority is the most important defense against evil? Is it never appropriate to challenge authority figures? Should we always assume that the authority figures in our lives are correct? What if the adult authority figure in a child's life is abusing them in some way? Should that child not learn that they should challenge them in a safe manner? That they should find another adult authority figure and challenge the actions of the abusive authority figure? Or should our children learn that if an adult tells them to do something, there is no discussion? I know that I'm picking an extreme example here, but I don't think it's an unfair example. Children should learn when it is appropriate to challenge adult authority and how to do so safely.

I don't agree with the claim that Harry Potter promotes witchcraft, but I do understand where the argument is coming from. I understand the desire to keep such influences out of one's home. But out of all schools? That makes no sense to me. In fact, my father once made a very good argument to me for why he dislikes the Harry Potter books which centered around the focus in the books on death and murder. He felt that for a children's book, one could create an equally ominous villain without all the focus on violence and murder. Now, as an adult, I'm not sure the book would be quite as compelling without the dangerous consequences of every action in the book, but let's remember... these books were originally intended for children. And my father has a point, and it does make me think twice about how early I would allow my child to read Harry Potter (and I'm sure this varies based on the temperment of individual children, so I'm not suggesting there's a magic age at which it becomes appropriate).

But when it comes to the claim that Harry Potter encourages children to challenge adult authority... well, Brava, J.K. Rowling! Brava! I have generally found the petitions to ban Harry Potter amusing. But any claim that a book should be banned because it encourages children to challenge authority is beyond belief to me. Parents who don't want their children to understand when it is appropriate to challenge authority should not be parents. Children should be guided to learn how to think for themselves and how to judge their surroundings and experiences accordingly.

I'm babbling at this point, but I'm sure I had a point in there somewhere. Perhaps I will edit this post later to make more sense. Perhaps.