My fourth grade teacher, Mr. Yarnell, turned the large walk-in closet that was supposed to hold our coats and bookbags into a reading room. It was a cozy little area with rugs and bean bag chairs. He hung fabric on the walls and had real lamps, instead of the normal overhead fluorescents. I always thought that it was the most comfortable room you would ever find a school building. Everyday after lunch and recess, our class would settle down in the reading room and Mr. Yarnell, a prominent actor and director in our local community theaters, would read to us. Most people don’t expect you to read to fourth graders. They expect those kids to spend time reading to themselves. But Mr. Yarnell knew the importance of reading to kids and I”m so thankful that he did.
We made it through a lot of stories in that little room. Two stick out most prominently in my memory. They were the books that received complaints from parents for their mature content. In fact, not every student in our class got to hear these amazing pieces of literature. They are still two of my favorite books to this day, The Giver and Zlata’s Diary.
The Giver, Lois Lowry‘s famous dystopian novel has received plenty of praise and more than a little censorship for dealing with issues like euthanasia, suicide and sexuality. Zlata’s Diary, a less well-known book published 1992, is the diary of a young Croatian girl living in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War.
In our classroom, some parents believed that their children were not capable of handling such intense and serious subjects. They didn’t want kids to question authority or know about the evils that mankind will inflict on one another. Both of these books, and many more, have been banned by libraries and school across the country. And I find that terribly depressing. Do we really trust our children so little? Do we think they’re so simple-minded that they can’t process complex and difficult situations?
Those books encouraged me to become an avid reader. Their adult subject matter didn’t scare or traumatize me, it challenged me. It made me think critically about the topics we were learning. It helped me to speak with my parents about mature matters, so that I could listen and form my own opinion. That’s the thing about truly amazing literature, it challenges you. And I can’t imagine my education without those essential lessons.
My daughter will have lots of teachers over the years, but I hope that one of them is like Mr. Yarnell. I hope they provide her with eye-opening and advanced literature that will make her think and question and debate. Knowledge is so important, in all of it’s forms. If we’re afraid of our kids misinterpreting The Lord of the Flies or The Scarlet Letter, maybe we should try discussing these classics with our kids, instead of hiding them away.
Banning books doesn’t help protect children, it saves parents from having in depth conversations with their kids. It doesn’t save their innocence, it promotes their ignorance. We need thoughtful reflection on difficult and mature topics, instead of pretending that they don’t exist. Abstinence education doesn’t work because it ignores the issue instead of addressing it. Banning literature with adult content doesn’t work because it attempts to pretend that the world is warm and fuzzy, insulating children from reality, instead of letting them explore and learn for themselves.