Banning knowledge

By Joe Rector

Let’s get this out front first: I spent my working years as a high school English teacher. It was a good job, and what made it a wonderful one was the interactions with high school students as I taught them grammar, writing, and literature. To be honest, I was never the best literature teacher. Many of the things that appeared in the textbooks made no sense to me, and I never understood what made them worthy of being included. However, some selections were full of information that taught lessons about life and the highs and lows that affect us all.

Okay, with all of that as a preface, I now state that I have no idea why so many books have been or are now being banned. “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is one such book. Yes, the book uses an offensive word for Black people in several places. I learned when I was a small child that the use of that word was wrong and would lead to swift punishment. Still, when this book was written, that foul word was used daily by folks who didn’t know any better or didn’t care. The picture of life in that time was vivid and the characters were realistic. It might not have been pretty, but it was close to reality.

Even more ridiculous to me is the banning of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I taught that book to my students, and yes, we discussed it. The injustices rained down on Blacks were shocking to young folks. The key to that book was Atticus Finch. He taught his children, as well as generations of children who read this book, the importance of white Americans coming to the aid of wronged folks of all races.

Holden Caulfield is a deeply disturbed teen who stumbles his way through life. “Catcher in the Rye” is a book that more than likely reaches more young folks than parents and teachers combined. Its reality is that mental illness needs special treatment, but first parents must be aware of that illness in their own children.

Walt Whitman might be one of the greatest poets this country has ever produced. I admit that I don’t understand everything he has written, but most of his poetry reaches the hearts of readers when someone is present to explain things. Yes, he was a homosexual, but his “Leaves of Grass” is not a manual for turning children. Folks who condemn Whitman’s poetry are probably the same ones who look for vile things in Disney movies. Give it a rest, please. Read “When I Heard the Learned Astronomer,” “O Captain! My Captain!,” or “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed.”

I’m flabbergasted that the Harry Potter series has been banned. The collection of books led more children to read than any other modern-day books. Harry Potter possesses special skills, as do his fellow classmates in the school he attends. However, what those who’ve banned this book missed is that Harry is every bit the same as children his age. My grandson devoured those books and came to know that being smart was not a sin, in spite of the ravings of some groups that howled about the books’ fascinations with witchcraft.

I might understand the banning of these books if the acts had taken place in the 1950s. However, to have classics banned in this day and time indicates that too many people have failed to learn, grow and understand. I defend any parent’s right to complain about a reading assignment. A talk with a teacher usually clears up the problem. An alternate assignment can be given so that all students discover the same points of the lesson plan. Raising a stink about a book to attract attention helps neither student nor parent, teacher or school.

We are supposed to be an enlightened country, perhaps more than any other one in existence. Yet, the banning of books, the burning of books, and the “protectionist attitudes and actions” of a minority harm the whole society. “Remember that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I seem to recall this same kind of banning took place in Hitler’s Germany. We must not overprotect children to the point that they are naïve. Let them and their ideas and beliefs be challenged so they can be strengthened or changed. In other words, let them be educated.