Friday, January 28, 2011

They're banning used books in Turkey...

Wow; that's a lead-in that grabs the eye.  My friend Luke used it to open the post he wrote yesterday on his blog. It was a good hook that pulled me in quickly.   
After he explained the situation more fully, it didn't appear as dire to me as I first guessed and, in fact, whether you agree with the reasons why the Turkish government took such Draconian measures, those reasons are interesting. I'll quote from Luke's blog:
"Apparently the Turkish Government has deemed pre-loved books unsanitary, after some kind of uproar from parents of school children, and as such they have pulled all used books from their Free Class Books Project, which as far as I can determine is an initiative that has been running for the last six years and was designed to make textbooks more affordable for Turkish families."
Unsanitary books?  I’ve never heard of a public health reason for banning used books but if we realize the ban only concerns school books and kids are well known germ factories… well, I can envision that there might be a powerful virus making the rounds in the schools; maybe some flesh-eating bacteria is eating little fingers off the hands of 5th graders. Damn.
I think it’s noteworthy that the ban is a response to parental demands. Without evidence to the contrary, I’ll take that as factual and since I have a tendency to want to believe parents are the best people to know what’s in the interest of their own kids, let’s move on…
But hey – let’s not.
This may be a great place to spin off into a discussion about a problem a lot closer to home… like maybe a discussion about a different kind of ban, one that is totally predicated on the prejudices of others and, in my opinion, represents a complete cluelessness about how the teaching of accurate history and the reading of powerful literature are vital to our national well being. 
Let me start with what’s been going on in the teaching of history – no books are being banned, per se, they’re just being bastardized:
What’s happened in Texas is most instructive and has huge consequences for the entire country because the decisions by the Texas School Board actually drive what school books are used all around the country.
I know that’s incredible but it’s true. You can check it out.
I’ve been really peeved about the Texas School Board’s idiotic rewriting of history and how it will negatively impact the education of our children all across the nation. Among other insanities, Thomas Jefferson has been put back stage in favor or Calvin. The reasoning behind this is so convoluted and historically false that I can’t address it without bringing myself close to fits. I’ve already written about it elsewhere and will leave more unsaid (for now anyway). However, I’d like to also mention that Texas is not alone in the Stupid Department; the state of Virginia just made national news when it was discovered one of its elementary school textbooks was full of egregious errors. The book wasn’t written by anyone with bona fides as a historian. Joy Masoff, the textbook’s author, is a professional writer but has no qualification to write historical educational material. She defended her work by saying she found it on the “internet.” What more can be said?
Now let’s look at literature:
I’ve never taught literature but I believe it is a profoundly important discipline; it is surely as integral to the education of a child as math, science, and history. There are profound truths that are captured in literature that transcend space and time and speak to the meaning and purpose of the human condition in a way no other discipline can.
Luke’s article in his blog pushed me into researching what we ban in our schools. Already knowing that it’s a struggle to teach accurate history from the lower grades through the 12th grade, I wondered what’s being taught – more accurately, not taught -- on the literature side of things.
I found this list of the top ten most banned books (at different school boards throughout the country):

1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
This book by Mark Twain has been challenged and banned in numerous locations and times because of its incessant use of racial slurs including the "n" word.
This book by J. D. Salinger uses profanity throughout along with the portrayal of events like prostitution, depression, and alienation.
This novel by Harper Lee has been challenged over the years for its use of profanity and racial slurs.
This book by Katherine Paterson was recently turned into a movie by Disney. It has been challenged or banned because of the disrespect the children show to adults, the confusion of combining fantasy with reality, and profanity.
This novel by William Golding has been challenged and in many cases banned because of its use of profanity, sexuality, racial slurs, and excessive violence.
This novel by John Steinbeck has been banned because of its use of profanity. Often cited are the use of the Lord's name in vain along with the use of racial slurs.

This Pulitzer prize winning novel by Alice Walker has been challenged and banned over the years because of its explicit sexuality, profanity, violence, and use of drugs.
These books by J.K. Rowling have become a frequent target as they are often challenged and sometimes banned. The most common reason cited is its use of witchcraft and the fear that fantasy and reality could become confused for children. However, some challenges have arisen over the violence it portrays.
Kurt Vonnegut's novel has been challenged and banned because of its profanity, violence, and explicit sexuality.
This novel by Toni Morrison was one of the most challenged in 2006 for its profanity, sexual references, and unsuitability for students.
Of course, science has been under attack in the classrooms for almost thirty years and the fact that America no longer leads the world in advances in technology and medicine comes as no surprise to me. There is a clear connection but I’ll save that for another post. Right now this is about all I can stomach.
I can’t get my mind around what could eventually happen to a country that downplays Thomas Jefferson in favor of Calvin and bans the likes of Twain and Steinbeck.
Oh how I sometimes weep for us. Especially for our grandchildren.
Wouldn’t it be easier if we just had to worry about germ-eating bacteria on our used books and not mind eating educational policies in our classrooms?
As to the Confederacy of Dunces and the Virginia history book scandal, here’s that link:
There’s a plethora of info on the Texas School Board policies and the impact on education. The good news, however, is digital technologies may circumvent some of these problems.
I’ll look at that next.
Have a safe weekend!


  1. Thanks for the link Maureen! It surely is shocking to see so many classic pieces of literature being taken out of the hands of our children due to outdated, misinformed views and narrow mindedness, especially when these same nasty elements (profanity, violence, sexuality, drug use) are freely broadcast on prime-time TV.

    I was wondering whether these examples above were currently banned or if they are a list of great banned books throughout history? my personal favourite is the banning of fantasy books so that the fantastic elements and reality will not become blurred for children ... and they wonder why kids hate school. Let's just remove anything that encourages creativity from the stimulus completely!

  2. Luke, those books are currently banned in certain parts of the US. The link to more info is

    I thought I had it at the end of my post but don't know where it went... sorry; it's been a long day!

  3. just this morning there was an article on the news - i believe cnn about teaching creationism over evolution. why must either be taught? where do we stand in the world with our education? our children don't know how to read, can't spell, don't know how to count. why don't we just start with math, reading, and science - and not worry about evolution and creationism. leave that up to them when they get educated and have their jobs and can decide for themself. me thinks i had enough this morning.

  4. gypsytoo; thanks for the comment. As a matter of fact, any credible biology class should contain information about evolution. When scientists say something is a "theory" they don't use the term in the same way lay people/non-scientists do who think "theory" means something is still open to debate. In science, there's the theory that the earth is round, the theory of gravitation, the theory of evolution -- it simply means this is what we, the scientists, do believe and with the information we now possess these things are true. It doesn't mean we don't know for sure if the earth is round or we're not really sure that when an apple falls it will hit the ground or that we aren't equally certain that species evolve. The biggest hindrance to understanding what evolution is and why it is valid science is that so many Americans are very poorly educated about science and they are easily confused and misled by all the nonsense coming from people who have a very religious agenda. So, just to answer your comment, I agree with you that our children are not getting the education they need; too many cannot read well or spell worth a damn and too many are poor in math. I would only add that they are also being held hostage to the far right's religious agenda that continues to insist evolution and creationism are equally valid and should be taught side by side. They are wrong; evolution is a valid scientific theory that has repeatedly been proven and creationism is a religious interpretation taken from Genesis that purports to give a religious explanation (instead of a scientific one) for the appearance of man on earth. One belongs in the biology/science classroom and the other belongs in Bible class.

    Thanks for your comment; I appreciated it.

  5. I totally agree with what Luke said about violence and profanity on television vs. in books.

    I also always wonder just how stupid we seem to think our kids are...? My kids are 5 and 9 and neither one of them has ever struggled to understand the difference between fantasy and reality. What kind of play would kids have without imaginations and a fertile fantasy world to "play" in?! That fantasy argument is so unbelievably lame!