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Banning Books - Karen's Musings
Random Rambling
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.

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21 comments or Leave a comment
ichur72 From: ichur72 Date: December 18th, 2006 01:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
What strikes me about this woman's statement is the insecurity it seems to convey about her own parenting skills. I happen to think that if parents are reasonably firm and consistent, their message will "stick" with the kids. If one book is enough to upset the entire applecart (assuming the kid wasn't already rebellious anyway), isn't there a bigger problem at hand? (And if this woman thinks that banning HP will prevent her from ever having to deal with a defiant teen-ager, she's on crack.)
marag From: marag Date: December 18th, 2006 01:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I absolutely agree that we should teach our kids to challenge adult authority in a safe and appropriate manner.

However...I was just saying to my mother yesterday that the only thing that bothers me about the books is the times Harry doesn't get punished for breaking the rules purely for his own benefit. Yes, he often breaks the rules to challenge authority appropriately and that's great, but there are definitely times he *should* be punished for it and isn't.

Having said that, do I think that reading these books would make my child a bad child or something? Hell no! I think that overall the books teach an excellent message about standing up for what's right, even in the face of overwhelming evil. That's a message I can get behind.
estherchaya From: estherchaya Date: December 18th, 2006 03:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree with you that there are times Harry should be punished and he isn't, and I agree that doesn't send the right message.

The truth is, as much as I love the books, and as much as I respect how much the books have done to increase reading-interest in school-aged children, I probably will not have my 2nd grader reading HP books when the time comes. I expect I'll wait a bit longer. By then, of course, HP may be out of vogue anyway.

I do not think that these books will make my child "bad", or will teach my child to practice witchcraft, or will teach my children that they should rebel against every single authority figure in their life. I think any parent who believes these things is not recognizing how important their own role in raising their children is. If your child reads something that you think sends the wrong message, then by all means, you should take that opportunity to communicate with your child... to teach the lessons that matter most to you... and to establish an open dialogue with your child about those issues.

Ugh. I'm still babbling, and that's partly because these aren't all cohesive thoughts yet. I'm still working through my thoughts and feelings on this matter.
From: stormkitten Date: December 18th, 2006 07:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
The HP books were written for children of Harry's age, actually...she'd intended that her readers grow with Harry. Young children are not the target audience. That it happened to appeal to all ages was a fortuitious accident for her.
estherchaya From: estherchaya Date: December 18th, 2006 07:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I know that. That's part of why I don't have any intention of letting my theoretical 7 year old read HP, while I know other folks whose young kids (under 10) have read all the HP books without problems. Regardless, I see my father's point even at age 12 or 13 (but it certainly doesn't keep me from reading and enjoying the books, as it does him).
glenbarnett From: glenbarnett Date: December 19th, 2006 01:42 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree with you that there are times Harry should be punished and he isn't, and I agree that doesn't send the right message.

If ther purpose of all books is to only convey morally correct messages, literature will be very dull indeed. If we can teach our children to recognize that sometimes Harry is getting away with things he perhaps shouldn't, it shouldn't be a problem.
pocketnaomi From: pocketnaomi Date: December 18th, 2006 01:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
It makes perfect sense to me.
cellio From: cellio Date: December 18th, 2006 01:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

It's harder to raise a thinking child than a robot, but no one ever said parenting is easy, and to do otherwise is not fair to the child.
From: have_inner_lady Date: December 18th, 2006 02:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
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.

Thank you for writing this today.
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From: have_inner_lady Date: December 18th, 2006 02:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
That would probably be good for me.
estherchaya From: estherchaya Date: December 18th, 2006 03:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's obviously appropriate challenges to authority and inappropriate challenges to authority.

My child most certainly should at some point question my authority... in fact, Julian does so now and it's completely age appropriate. The truth is that we adults are fallible. We make arbitrary rules for our children. Some of those arbitrary rules make more sense than others. But the thing that I learn every day is that I don't always know what I'm doing. When I'm faced with a fork in the parenting road, I have to make a guess about which direction is the "right" direction. Sometimes I'm correct, sometimes I'm not.

When Julian is a teenager, he will undoubtedly rebel in completely aggravating ways. Much of that is age appropriate, but that doesn't change the job of the parent to continue teaching that child/young adult when challenging authority is appropriate and how to do so in an acceptable manner.

And yes, I'll whine about it when the time comes, as is my right as a parent. But hopefully, the end result will be an independently thinking young adult who isn't afraid to challenge authority when it is necessary and appropriate.
estherchaya From: estherchaya Date: December 18th, 2006 03:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
As Steve points out... that doesn't make rebellion on the part of our children any less aggravating sometimes.
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ginamariewade From: ginamariewade Date: December 18th, 2006 05:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was going to say this, or something like it, but you beat me to it.

I still remember my aunt & uncle giving my parents advice, and recommending a James Dobson book, telling my mother "You've got to break her spirit, Julia, or she's never going to act right."
estherchaya From: estherchaya Date: December 18th, 2006 05:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's incredibly frightening. See, I converted, but I grew up somewhere between Jewish and agnostic, so I never had any other real religious influence in my life.
hannahsarah From: hannahsarah Date: December 19th, 2006 02:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Hey, ginamarie. Mind if I friend you?
ginamariewade From: ginamariewade Date: December 19th, 2006 02:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Sure, go ahead.
hannahsarah From: hannahsarah Date: December 19th, 2006 02:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow. You have my life! I was raised xian, too. Questioning anything meant that you "had no faith" or that you were "rebellious" and in need of councelling with the pastor(the one who tried to molest me, btw). All of the repression is what MADE me want to rebel and be a "bad girl".

When I found out that I was SUPPOSED to ask questions in Judaism, I knew that I had finally found the right place for me. Sure, I drive my rabbis crazy, but it's so wonderful to finally be able to use my brain in a religious venue.

Mind if I friend you?
(Deleted comment)
hannahsarah From: hannahsarah Date: December 20th, 2006 12:55 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, hang in there. I look forward to getting to know you better, once things settle down a bit. :-)
glenbarnett From: glenbarnett Date: December 19th, 2006 04:20 am (UTC) (Link)

Well, I'm not Jewish (though the Jewish head of dept where I do some casual teaching keeps speaking to me in Hebrew and being -yet again- surprised when he realizes I'm not actually Jewish).

But certainly authority was questioned a lot when I was growing up, and it sure rubbed off.

glenbarnett From: glenbarnett Date: December 19th, 2006 01:37 am (UTC) (Link)

Fantastic stuff.

Yeah, I agree absolutely on challenging authority, and parents definitely included. Part of our job is to teach kids how to challenge authority, and how to decide when it's necessary. Raising an obedient automaton that accepts everything you say is not successful parenting.

(I do have a minor problem with Jamie simply assuming I'm wrong and doing the opposite of what I ask him to, instead of coming to talk to me about it - I want him to be able to challenge me but he needs to understand his Dad isn't quite a complete idiot, and generally I tell him to do/not to do stuff for a good reason, which is why he needs to talk to me first, if it's at all possible.)

Indeed, I went to great lengths to avoid indoctrinating Jamie with my individual beliefs** before he was old enough to be able to reject them. I know many people will think this is crazy, but I don't see how I can expect him to give a privileged position to my beliefs unless they can withstand that kind of scrutiny.

**(apart, of course, from the basic moral/behavioural standards shared by the bulk of society that he'll have trouble functioning happily without - so he's quite polite and has respect for other people and their property; indeed, his behaviour in public or while visiting is generally angelic by 8 year old standards)

Unfortunately, there's an abundance of people who seem to have been very busily indoctrinating him with all kinds of nonsense, some of it quite astonishing (such as his friend who believes vehemently that they don't need to be careful, because the strength of their religious belief means they cannot come to harm). Some of the oddest bits of what he's got into his head I'm now trying to help him question, so that he can be in a position to choose whether he really needs to believe it.

onionsoupmix From: onionsoupmix Date: January 14th, 2007 04:29 am (UTC) (Link)
remember stanley milgram's experiments ? That's what happens when children are not taught to question authority.
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