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American Censorship, the Modern Saga

American Censorship, the Modern Saga

       

This is an essay for all the social conservatives, concerned parents, and Republicans around the country who have taken it upon themselves to rid libraries of “inappropriate” and “offensive” material.  Yes, you heard that right; in the year 2022, in the country that gave birth to modern liberal democracy, whose own Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of the press, citizens are actively trying to censor material for fear that the ideas contained within will harm their children.  Before I say anything else about the matter, I want to say to all the parental censors out there: I get it.  Your child is growing up during one of the most contentious, polarizing, and confusing times in human history where ideologies are accessible to nearly everyone and anyone.  You want to protect your innocent child from radical ideas you do not agree with, from uncomfortable conversations and questions these books might conjure from them.  You don’t want them discussing gender identity or sexual violence or repeating derogatory terms because you feel they are too young to handle such complex issues.  It is natural for any good parent to want to protect their child from such situations; you want what’s best for them.  

But ironically, what’s best is not always better.  Have you ever heard the saying: “prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child”?  This proverb means that we should not try to interfere with the external world and bubble wrap it to spare our children suffering, but instead instill in them the values, skills, and knowledge of how to deal with uncomfortable situations so that they may become resilient, independent young adults.  The actions of several activist groups are fundamentally going against this principle.  Such groups include Moms for Liberty, County Citizens Defending Freedom-USA, and several others who have been invading school board meetings not to express their concerns over the content available to their children (which in the majority of cases includes middle and high schoolers), but to demand the immediate removal and banning of such material.  The reasons range from being graphically violent, using derogatory terms, being too pornographic, endorsing critical race theory, and promoting social constructions of gender.  Some of the books in question are personal memoirs or anecdotal experiences from marginalized communities.  Others are about 9/11, teen suicide, and LGBTQ relationships.  Again, it is clear why some parents do not want their children to be exposed to these ideas because they believe it will indoctrinate them into a way of thinking that contradicts the values the parents wish to instill in them.  These are valid concerns to have.  But this does not mean the solution is censorship.  In a democratic society, the solution can never be censorship.  

If you do not want your child to read these books then it is time you have a conversation with them.  Fulfill your role as the parent and tell them you do not want them to read certain things, or that you do not agree with the messages behind them.  I know that these are uncomfortable conversations to have with them, but no one said being a parent was going to be easy.  Instill in them the values and ideologies you want, and prepare them to encounter contradicting material.  Children grow up, and when they grow up they enter an unforgiving world that is not going to always agree with them or handle them with such care as their parents.  Because of this, you must make the effort to prepare and teach them how to deal with conflicting ideas or concepts that go against the things they have been taught to believe in.  If you fail to do this and your child encounters rhetoric or ideology that invalidates or even disproves their own, they will feel a silent resentment towards you for having misled them all their lives.  This is the case of many modern young adults who were raised with religious beliefs, but upon exposure to the broader culture, lost their faith and viewed their parent’s teachings as a form of indoctrination in and of itself.  Do not raise your child to hate you or mistrust you.  Be honest with them and teach them that not everyone is going to agree with what they believe.  

 

Parents nowadays fear such material will harm their children, but you cannot forget that children are not fragile.  Nassim Taleb coined the term antifragility, which means when exposed to stress or trauma, an individual (or system) is able to leave the situation stronger and more capable to deal with future difficulties because of their learned experience.  Children are antifragile.  When they get hurt, they learn to handle pain and avoid making the same mistakes in the future.  When they experience loss or rejectionーwith the help of supportive adult figures in their lifeーare able to rebound from that experience and grow from it, taking away valuable life lessons.  Do not treat your child as fine china, but as resilient human beings that are going to one day need to be able to survive a cruel world without you.  Any parent’s job is not to comfort and protect children from all evil in the worldーas much as we’d like toーbut to prepare them to deal with adversity and hardship.  To not be offended when someone says something they don’t like or take things too personally if they haven’t thought the situation through.  Raise your child to be strong, to be rational, and competent, raise them to be able to handle uncomfortable conversations.  Do not shield them from things you think might do them harm because more often than not, it won’t.  It will only make them a more resilient being. 

 

So when I see these massive efforts to censor titles that make parents uncomfortable, it fills me with great sadness, anger, and disappointment.  We as a nation built on the principles of free speech, agency, and liberty should never submit to censorship when it supports our beliefs or our agendas.  We must accept that these are the consequences of liberal democracy and given the profound benefits this governing system has provided for us, we should be more than okay abiding by it.  Need I remind you of what other nations that practiced book censorship looked like?  

 

Here are a few examples:

 

  • During the 1950s, Mao Zedong’s cultural revolution in China banned any books that were identified as anti-communist.
  • Nazi Germany practiced ritual and public burnings of any “un-German” authors who promoted ideas counter to the totalitarian regime.
  • In 1616-42 Galileo’s theories about the solar system revolving around the sun instead of the Earth were banned and he was imprisoned and ostracized by the Church and scientific community.
  • In 1959 the White Citizens Council banned The Rabbit’s Wedding, a children’s picture book from the shelves of Alabama public schools because of its possibility of promoting racial integration.

 

Parents, conservatives, and Republicans, I implore you to ask yourselves, do you want to join the ranks of those mentioned above?  Would you want to be associated with segregationists, communists, and totalitarian leaders who were so hellbent on preserving their power and their beliefs that they restricted the voices of others?  Does that sound American to you?

  

Take responsibility and stop using bureaucratic systems such as school board meetings and book review committees to protect your children and instead teach them the values you wish for them to live by.  Do not take away the rights and freedoms of other children to read to satisfy your own desires.  Besides, there are programs in schools now where you can opt-out your child from reading “mature content”, you always have that power and that right.  But the second you advocate for complete censorship and removal of a text on the basis that it goes against your moral teachings is the second that we start to ignore democratic values and we begin to look like the monsters of our past. 

Local Florida articles discussing Book Ban efforts here at home:

https://www.fox13news.com/news/polk-county-school-leaders-consider-banning-16-books-due-to-potentially-inappropriate-content

https://www.clickorlando.com/news/local/2022/04/09/i-cant-stand-this-filth-osceola-school-library-books-under-review-parents-demand-removal/

Here is a link to an amazing book that helped form my opinions about antifragility, strength of mind, and becoming resilient:  The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff

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