Other voices: Ban the book ban

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Oh no you didn’t.

You come after Dolly Parton, you’re coming after all of us.

You’d better buckle your seatbelt, ’cause you’re in for a rough ride.

That’s the advice we’d give to Kentucky State Sen. Stephen Meredith, who while discussing a bill that partners his state with Parton’s Imagination Library program, questioned whether language could be added to ensure the program’s books are “subject-appropriate.”

The Divine Ms. Parton, if we may, is one of the few national treasures left on whom we all still agree. This stellar icon has provided joy and comfort to millions of Americans. She’s accomplished a great deal of good with her fame and fortune, and, as far as we know, never said a bad word about anyone, not even Porter Wagoner. As Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said, the Imagination Library has long stayed “out of any controversy, and I think that what Dolly Parton and her program have shown is they have age-appropriate and subject matter-appropriate books going to children.”

Incidentally, we’ve benefited locally from Parton’s Imagination Library, which mails free books to children from birth to age 5.

Meredith was quick to backpedal, claiming that “as we know, players change over the course of time, and things get shifted.”

But we trust Parton and her Imagination Library team a whole lot more than we trust reactionary politicians who are trying to make hay from this recent push to censor literature that makes them uncomfortable.

Among Parton’s defenders were her little sister, Stella, a singer in her own right, who tweeted: “Sen. Meredith chose the phrase ‘indoctrinate our children.’ But that’s the GOP way, to be as sinister and fear-mongering as possible. When you stoop so low as to question the honorable intentions of someone as well intentioned as my big sister, Dolly, then you are stooping low.”

He’s not alone in that downward trajectory, of course; quite a few legislators across the country have been trying to rile up voters by objecting to material that deals with gender or racial issues. Whatever problem may actually exist has been irrevocably overshadowed by the hyperbole.

Maybe the most hyperbolic has been fading country music star John Rich, who has compared teachers and librarians with “a guy in a white van pulling up at the edge of school when school lets out.”

But not everyone in Nashville has gone nuts.  Tennessee Rep. Jeremy Faison, a Republican, called criticism of school librarians unfounded and “very unfair.”

“I have two boys in public school, and the librarian in their school is a wonderful friend of ours,” Faison said. “I know the librarians in all of our district, they’re nothing like that. They’re people I trust my children with.”

We need more of that, especially from Republicans.

The truth is that the vast majority of school and public libraries hire information specialists who know all about childhood development and material selection. They also already have procedures in place that allow individuals or groups to question or challenge the inclusion of materials.

But that process doesn’t bring parents out to yell at school board meetings.

Over the past year, book challenges and bans have reached levels not seen in decades, according to officials at the American Library Association, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and other advocates for free expression.

Fortunately, the push has generated pushback, as some parents realize they don’t appreciate conservative reactionaries having the last angry word. They’ve formed groups like the Florida Freedom to Read Project, Red, Wine & Blue and the Round Rock Black Parents Association in Texas to make sure that a wide range of materials will be available to those who want it. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, PEN America and the National Coalition Against Censorship have been working with them.

Some students have also taken action, including the high schoolers who staged protests in Florida last week and eighth-grader Joslyn Diffenbaugh in Kutztown, Pa., who formed a banned-book club in his school. Their first selection: George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

“We think education works best when it’s parents and teachers working together,” Katie Paris, the Ohio founder of Red, Wine & Blue and mother of 7- and 3-year-old boys told The Associated Press. “And if you don’t want your child to have access to a book, then opt them out. That’s fine. You just don’t want to just take that opportunity away from my kids.”

We agree. Pitting parents against teachers is not productive — neither is claiming one’s primacy over the other. Children benefit most when parents and teachers work together.

It’s also a lot more productive than making ugly and baseless accusations.


— Winston-Salem Journal