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CSotD: Banned Aids and Nits Picked

I was glad to see Steve Brodner’s latest commentary, which is about banned books, and about the way the right wing has embraced Cancel Culture and about how young people are not accepting it.

The Granbury School District is banning books. Banning them.

Not simply removing them from a curriculum as we discussed yesterday, or putting them behind the counter as many school libraries do with troublesome titles, but taking them entirely out of classrooms and libraries. That’s what “banning” means.

And god knows, they’re not alone.

Yesterday’s entry got a lot of pushback on social media, some more valid than others. I don’t intend to refight the battle here, but it was a case of a school board not “banning” Maus — it is presumably still available in school libraries there — but removing it as the anchor text in an 8th grade Holocaust curriculum, with an expressed desire to have teachers find a different book with which to continue to teach the topic.

Derf Backderf has said that the issue of book banning has been going on for quite a while and it’s good that this story finally gave the matter some traction, and I’d agree, except that, as noted, it was largely misreported.

Great, important cause, but a lousy example.

The Granbury situation is an excellent example: Cancel Culture fanatics are targeting 130 titles and demanding they be banned from school libraries, with their targets being largely, as Isabella Guzman explains and Brodner quotes, books by or about people of color or of differing sexual orientations and gender identities.

She’s right. It’s disgusting.

To which I would add that it’s even more disgusting that you don’t have to reach or exaggerate or misreport to make this crucially important point: There are far too many perfectly applicable, valid examples such that good coverage would provide the traction Derf seeks, if good journalists made the effort.

Though I’d point out that, when you cut down newsroom staff to make bigger profits for shareholders, it means editors don’t have enough reporters to assign them to go to those board meetings and take notes.

You might as well censor the news as make it impossible for anyone to cover it.

Here’s a link to a particularly well-written letter to the editor from a young man of color who protests book banning from either side of the aisle, calling out both the fascisti and also well-meaning liberals who want to protect him from the N-word.

 

I love Gen-Z. They seem to realize that they must stand up for themselves and, as Brodner notes, they’re asking questions in real life that this fictional kid does in Kevin Necessary’s cartoon.

That fourth panel says a lot, and I say that for two reasons. One is that I’ve (already) had two granddaughters who raised their voices well before they were of voting age, and the other is that, when school boards are filled with partisans and the clueless, it’s the fault of people who don’t vote.

One of the major triumphs of the rightwing has been capturing local offices while the left focuses on Presidential politics and Congress. They’re winning with singles while their opponents strike out trying to hit home runs.

I’m old enough to remember when Bernie was mayor of Burlington. Hell, I’m old enough to remember when Peter Soglin was mayor of Madison.

Where are the rest?

 

Paul Fell offers a comforting view of young people, and of the response to rightwing bans, especially if they are loud and attract attention.

There is hope in the Forbidden Fruit aspect of all this. Back when I was in high school, Leslie Thomas’s “The Virgin Soldiers” somehow made it onto the shelves of our school library despite the rampant sex and hilarious off-color jokes throughout. Somebody in our crowd read it and, from then on, it was off the shelves and in our hands constantly.

I promise you, nobody assigned it and, certainly, nobody used it as the anchor text in a module about anything.

However, if they had caught on and disappeared it, we’d have found other copies. Immediately.

If you ban it, they will come.

 

Meanwhile, Harry Bliss (AMS) imagines a world of good parenting that sets kids up to become good readers.

I used to read to my boys every night at bedtime and I count that among my better moves. Granted, I only read Joyce to them as infants, far too young to follow the adventures of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, but well able to snooze to the vibrations of that wonderful, rhythmic prose.

But we included classics amongst the Roald Dahl.

Hint to readers: The best read-aloud book ever is “Through the Looking Glass,” because most of the characters only appear in one chapter, so you don’t have to remember their voices the next night. I stole most of mine from the 1933 film, in which, among many others, Cary Grant was the Mock Turtle and WC Fields played Humpty Dumpty.

 

Speaking of cultural references, and shifting to far less weighty matters, today’s Zits (KFS) reminds me that there was a four-year-old in our circle who wandered into the kitchen and asked her mother what she was cooking. Told “beefhearts,” she wrinkled her nose and said, “Mommy! Bees don’t fart!”

That little girl is approaching 50 today, and I’d suggest that, if Jeremy knows “Smashing Pumpkins,” he’s at least in his 30s.

Captain Beefheart fans, meanwhile, are mostly in their 70s and 80s.

Boy, are we old. Which beats the alternative.

 

As long as I’m nit-picking, I also laughed at today’s Sherman’s Lagoon (KFS), in part because I’ve long been on record as preferring funerals to weddings.

  1. People only get one.
  2. Nobody says, “But I have to ask her to be a pall-bearer! I was a pall-bearer at her funeral!”
  3. No John Denver music.
  4. And, even if they’re thinking it, nobody comes up to you and says, “You know, you’re gonna be next!

However, the wake comes first. Then the funeral.

 

All of which brings us back to politics, and the days when we believed that “all politics is local” and no man should die without a decent representation at his wake.

 

Community Comments

#1 ANDREA DENNINGER
January/28/2022
@ 8:49 am

The high school library in which I worked from 1975-2005, one school board member’s wife wanted to remove books. I seem to remember that ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ was a focus. Mind you: 1) she was a pediatrician’s wife; and 2) our school had the district’s infant lab and pregnant girls’ class located within it.

Her solution was to try to check out the book and then keep it. We’d’ve ordered another immediately; my boss the librarian had words with her and the attempt was dropped.

The MAUS books and Mein Kampf (and Rolling Stone and MAD) were in our library; far as I know, no one questioned those, altho ours was the only library in the district to have RS and MAD.

Strange times, indeed.

#2 Mark B
January/28/2022
@ 9:28 am

As for Maus, you make a fair point but I’m not sure having a couple copies in the school library will reach anywhere the same number of students as assigning it to a class. Students today don’t use libraries the same way we did in the 1960s and 1970s. I teach at a small private university, and I have had seniors who’ve never even gone to the library stacks to find a book. They do all their research online. (Which drives me nuts! I LOVED exploring the shelves in my campus library.) I am taking one of my classes to our campus library next week and I’d bet my paycheck when I take them into the stacks it’ll be the first time at least half of them have gone past the computer terminals and into the books.
On a different note, I find it very plausible that Jeremy knows “Smashing Pumpkins.” Students today know more about older music than I did at their age. I’ve been surprised by students with surprisingly deep knowledge of the Beatles and Pink Floyd. Yes, they have their own generational new music, but their playlists often seem to be a lot broader than ours was back in the day. Besides, Jeremy is a musician and musicians often have a much deeper understanding of past music. I mean his cat is named “Clapton” and I presume that’s not because Jeremy is anti-vaccine. ?

#3 Mark B
January/28/2022
@ 10:01 am

Sorry, the ? at the end of my post was originally a smiling emoji. It did not convert correctly. :)

#4 Brian Fies
January/28/2022
@ 10:28 am

I’ve been thinking about the Maus kerfuffle since your column yesterday. You’re the only commenter I saw who made the fine distinction that the board didn’t ban the book or order it stripped from the library, but simply changed its curriculum materials as they often do. You’re persuasive. Oddly, the only other person I read who allowed that maybe the board had a non-evil motivation was Art Spiegelman.

But I’d like to split the difference (or split the already-split hair) with you. Somebody on that board or in that community made a big public stink about it. I don’t believe that the board votes on every decision to change the chemistry text from one written by Dr. Smith to one written by Dr. Jones, or to swap out Johnny Tremain for Billy Budd, or that board members make big speeches when they do. The decision may have been a routine administrative one but it was also aggressively political.

And for that, I think the board rightly earns the criticism it’s receiving.

#5 Brad Walker
January/28/2022
@ 10:43 am

Spencer Tracy is all over the map in terms of politics. In “The Last Hurrah” he is the ultimate machine politician, always looking out for his constituents.

However, ten years earlier (1948), in “State of the Union,” he played an industrialist in the Howard Hughes mold who is persuaded to run for office because “government needs to be run like a business.” Why do we keep making that mistake? (This movie is old enough to portray Angela Lansbury as the femme fatale.)

So Tracy has been an outsider, an insider, and in “Keeper of the Flame” (1943) he’s an observer — a reporter who uncovers the political aspirations of the late Robert Forrest, a WWI hero. Sort of a twist on the “Citizen Kane” formula.

#6 Mark Jackson
January/28/2022
@ 11:35 am

Why did you rope in Peter to portray Paul?

#7 Mike Peterson
January/28/2022
@ 12:42 pm

Brian, I’d agree, and, if you read the minutes, you’ll find one particularly upset fellow. I’d be willing to bet he’s the one who brought it up, and I also find it interesting that, while it’s not labeled a special meeting, there is also nothing in the minutes about a need for new brooms for maintenance, the cost of electricity or the pep club’s request for uniforms. I haven’t been to a lot of board meetings with only one topic, but, then again, they didn’t record the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance, so the transcript may only cover that section of a longer meeting.

Anyway.

Anyway, it sounds to me like the guy who was upset led the charge but it was met by a chorus of “Y’know, he’s got a pretty good point.” Even the teachers failed to put up much of a fight, and I’ve been to enough of those things that it raises a question.

I’d like to know what they plan to use as the anchor text in that Holocaust module now. I’ve been thinking it over and I don’t have a lot of nominees. Most YA books on the topic skew too young and only cover a limited section of the entire topic.

#8 parnell nelson
January/28/2022
@ 2:24 pm

When I was 12 years old in an ‘advanced’ English class in 8th grade-a long time ago- we were given a mimeographed reading list with one of the titles completely scratched out-so they thought-and, of course, a couple of us uncovered enough of the listing to determine that the book was ‘Catcher in the Rye’ which we immediately found and read and passed around. We were not ruined by reading it. However, later that year the school librarian gave me a copy of ‘The Beats’, an anthology of writings by Keroac, Ginsburg, Corso, Burroughs etc. because she thought I would ‘like it’. It inspired a poem by me about the ‘damn hallway monitor chair’ and ‘ the oppression of junior high school’ and I ended up in the principal’s office, the librarian was ‘talked to’ and the book was gone from the library. But from that day forward I was a Beatnik!

#9 Mike Peterson
January/28/2022
@ 3:14 pm

In 8th grade, we read “Great Expectations” — or a truncated textbook version –and Conrad’s “Secret Sharer.” I don’t remember much about Secret Sharer but my memory of Dickens was that we read it as a story about a kid who was supposed to become rich and hung around with a batty old lady and then got a job and then got a big surprise.

It was only in reading it years later that I realized what a snotty, self-important little ingrate Pip was, which is more or less the point of the book and why the revelation at the end is so wonderfully ironic.

Also that Dickens was an ass to listen to Bulwer-Lytton and change the ending. “Dark and stormy night” indeed!

Hence my doubts about the power of 8th graders to process difficult, challenging literature. Plus a few doubts about Dickens.

#10 Mary McNeil
January/28/2022
@ 6:20 pm

Speaking of cultural references ‘ bee fart/beefheart’ is Cockney rhyming slang.

#11 ANDREA DENNINGER
January/28/2022
@ 7:12 pm

I’d read a variety of news articles; several stated that the book was only removed from an eighth-grade ESL (English as Second Language) class. Has anyone seen that stated in these minutes of the board meeting?

#12 Mike Peterson
January/29/2022
@ 3:49 am

Andrea: No, ELA — English Language Arts — what we used to just call “English” and a course taken by all students. The board minutes are linked in my previous piece.

#13 Michael Dooley
January/29/2022
@ 8:16 pm

as a fellow Irishman, i hardly need to tell you that Harry Bliss’s kid will be in for a lewd awakening in the unlikely event that he ever stays awake long enough to hear Molly’s soliloquy (nor do i need to note the book’s centennial).

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