I was watching the local news on Wednesday when I came across a story about a book controversy in a local school district.
It seems some parents complained about The Chocolate War an assigned book that they thought to be offensive.
What is ironic is that one of the book and film’s main theme is “conformity” – where the majority imposes orthodoxy in thoughts and belief. That is what censorship does. It imposes an orthodoxy in thoughts and beliefs by suppressing any that are contrary.
JOHNSTOWN, Ohio – Some parents are urging officials in the Northridge School district to place a ban on a controversial book that is assigned to high school students.
Michelle Doran and a few other parents are upset because students at Northridge High School are assigned to read The Chocolate War – a young adult novel written by Robert Cormier that was published in 1974.
Doran, whose son was required to read the book last year as a freshman at Northridge, took issue with some of the book’s passages, 10TV’s Tanisha Mallett reported.
“Her breast brushing against his arm set him on fire,” Doran recites. “If these books were a movie, they would be Rated R, why should we be encouraging them to read these books?”
The Chocolate War was made into a movie in 1988 and it starred John Glover, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, and Wallace Langham and it was rated R. It is one of my favorite movies. The main plot is that a kid named Jerry Renault refuses to sell chocolate that raises money for his prep school which starts a war with the kids who controlled the school.
Ms. Doran continues:
“I understand they want to have freedom as to what they want to teach, but who are they teaching?” she said. “They’re teaching our children.”
I agree that parents should not only know what is being taught to their children but should have some control, but people like Doran not only want to “protect” their children they also want to prevent me from making the same choice for my children that she demands for herself.
If she wants to be able to opt-out her children from reading the book, I would support that, even though she is doing her children a disservice in the guise of protection, but she shouldn’t be allowed to have a say in what any other children can read.
The other point that bothered me about this issue is that the book is on a reading list for high school kids. That age range is something like 16 to 18. We call that young adult. Too young for 100% freedom of thought and action but too old to want them to think the world is just an episode of Teletubbies. It bothers me that some parents forget they were 16 once and also forget that words do nothing other than help children learn and relate about their world. It just seems warped that a parent thinks they can “protect” children from their natural reaction – in their bodies and minds – to becoming full and healthy adults.
Yet the American Library Association (ALA) ranks sex as the largest reason for challenges against books.
I had a job when I was 16, I could go see R rated movies when I was 17, and I was allowed to sign my own absence notes when I missed school when I was 18 – not to mention I could vote. I also knew all the euphemisms for a penis, that the clit was very important during sex, and a breast brushing against my arm would set me on fire. I was on fire pretty much 24 hours a day seven days a week during high school. A simple flip of a girls pony tail would hypnotize me for hours.
The ALA has, on it’s website, one of my favorite quotes against censorship:
“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” — On Liberty, John Stuart Mill
There is a video from my local station about the book challenge here.