By John Micek
More years ago than I really care to count, the children’s librarian in my little town in rural northwestern Connecticut, apparently tired of my endlessly renewing the same book over and over again, pressed a copy of “The White Mountains” by John Christopher into my eight-year-old hands.
Mrs. Bullock was her name. She was the mother of one of my schoolmates. She’d taken note of my reading habits, such as they were were, and decided to take matters into her own hands. If I liked the book I’d been endlessly renewing, she argued, I’d love this one.
She was right. I read every volume in Christopher’s pulpy series, which followed the adventures of young people rebelling against alien overlords’ bent on keeping a servile population under their collective thumb with futuristic tech that suppressed their individuality and free will.
It was the start of my lifelong love of books and libraries. And viewed through the prism of 40-odd years, it was an oddly prescient choice.
Students and their teachers in schools across the country — and now public libraries — are waging a brave fight against the king of organized book-banning campaigns that once only seemed the province of the worst kind of totalitarian governments — or dystopian YA science fiction.
As Washington, D.C. Reporter Ariana Figueroa of the States Newsroom made astonishingly clear in a story we published on Monday, hundreds of books, across dozens of states, are being banned at alarming rates.
A majority of the bans have targeted books written by authors who are people of color, LGBTQ+, Black and indigenous. The books feature characters, and deal with themes, that reflect the experiences of marginalized communities, Figueroa reported.
And while those behind these campaigns hide themselves behind the mask of ‘parental control,’ what I think they’re really concealing is fear: Fear of a country and world that’s changing around them; fear of voices that were kept silent too long who are now speaking up and demanding their seat at the table of power, and, mostly, fear of the erosion of their own privilege.
Because books are more than printed matter. They’re conduits to an endless universe of knowledge. And they are the greatest democratizer we’ve ever invented.
Take one down off the shelf, read it, and finish it, and it will nudge you to another, and another. Before long, you’re navigating the twists and turns of human experience, letting your own curiosity be your guide, allowing it to bring you to places you’ve never been, and to introduce you to people, places, and cultures you might never have met or experienced on your own.
And that’s why, when they’ve sought to erase people and cultures, every authoritarian from the beginning of time until now has destroyed their books and burned their libraries.
After the the Romans tore down ancient Carthage, brick by brick, and sold its people into slavery in 146 B.C.E., they gave the Carthaginians’ books to the city’s adversaries, who either destroyed or lost them, silencing them forever.
The Nazis held well-documented book burnings in 1933. And in a modern twist, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is struggling to keep the truth of its savage invasion of Ukraine from its own people.
Last year, students in the Central York School District, about 40 minutes south of the state capital of Harrisburg, made nationwide headlines when they took on — and won a reversal of — a year-long ban on a list of anti-racism books and educational resources by or about people of color, including children’s books that dealt with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, the Washington Post and other news outlets reported.
The school board’s president, Jane Johnson, told the Post at the time that the board was trying to “balance legitimate academic freedom with what could be literature/materials that are too activist in nature, and may lean more toward indoctrination rather than age-appropriate academic content.”
Hear that? Indoctrination? That’s the voice of fear talking. It’s a way to push back, without appearing to push back, against arguments that you’re trying to silence or erase those whose voices badly need to be heard.
At a September 2021 news conference at the state Capitol celebrating their win, the students acknowledged that their work was not finished because they would not give up their effort to provide safe spaces for those marginalized voices.
Because when a student — or anyone — picks up a book, it’s a moment of singular liberation. It’s their first step down that hallway of knowledge. It’s the start, rather than the end, of the adventure. And there’s no telling where it might take them — perhaps even to the halls of power themselves.
And if they’re very lucky, they will have their own Mrs. Bullock to help guide them down those twisting and turning corridors, always nudging them along, gently prodding and testing them, but never, ever standing in their way or blocking the path.
Only the fearful do that.
A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star’s Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.
“Moral endangerment comes from people with dirty minds, which censors have a tendency to possess.”
—Evening Standard, 2/01/00
Andy(not that one, the other other one) says
Interesting thoughts! Should some books should be banned for promoting indecency and disgusting moral viewpoints? Please stick with The Good Book. Gather your family around and read some of the Bible’s wisdom! Are you strong enough to embrace these precepts?
Beloved Moses gives advice after a battle is won:
Lot, who knows a thing or two about wickedness, has a bargain for some perverts at his door:
Or the beautiful prose of Psalm 137 with it’s … uh… intense… imagery
Yes, let the book-ban frenzy inflame your heart! It’s certainly got me thinking of some books I’d like to see disappear…
Organized Religion has caused more turmoil in the Universe than any other entity. I will pass No Thanks.
Dude- read those passages – I specifically chose them out of the hundreds of Bible atrocities to highlight the hypocrisy of organized religion!
I love this image!
Vote No for Soviet DeSantis.
Bill C says
Yes, it is fear, but of what? According to the Federalist, “The entertainment giant [Disney] has been feeding social leftism into the minds of young audiences.” Which one of the Seven Dwarfs is the gay/transgender one grooming children into corruption? Perhaps Mickey Mouse is too effeminate and leading young minds astray. Minnie should be more servile to her man (mouse?) The House of Mouse is a den of iniquity! What it’s really about is a drive to inject paranoid evangelical moralism into law and change this country from a secular one into one that conforms to their religious dogma. The radical right has no real solutions and instead has degenerated into attacking Mickey Mouse.
Right On Bill!
Of course the Federalist (a right winged monger of propaganda and disinformation) would claim that Disney is liberal.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, The Federalist published many pieces that contained false information, pseudoscience, and contradictions or misrepresentations of the recommendations of public health authorities. While ballots were being counted in the 2020 United States presidential election, The Federalist made false claims that there had been large-scale election fraud.
The trouble is that too many Floridians actually read and believe such fear and hate filled garbage!
It’s obvious that de santis, and his warped Republican henchmen in the legislature, fear an “EDUCATED”, independent “thinking” constituency! All fascists know that “ignorant”, fear filled, people are just so much easier to “CONTROL”!