In Which We Suspect The Irony Is Missed. As Usual.

January 9th, 2005 · 4 Comments
by Booksquare

Thanks to Booksquare’s top Secret Agent, we bring to your attention yet another case of parents and book banning. That the book is about free will and making choices seems to be lost on this small band of parents who feel the subject matter is inappropriate for their children. And, that, we agree is their right. However, for other kids, the book sends a clear message:

“It [The Giver by Lois Lowry] is a powerful book,” said Dawn Vaughn, president of the American Association of School Librarians. “It is important for young adults who are at a point in their lives when they will have to make choices about drugs, alcohol and sex to have a discussion about breaking away from the crowd and standing up for what you believe in. I can’t think of a better book for an eighth-grade class to read.”

Secret Agent, who has read the book, echoes the above. But the dark subject matter, including death, bothers some parents (though we do give kudos for reading the book before taking action…would that others take this step):

“This book is negative,” said Cerise Ivey, one of five parents who have fought the book’s inclusion on student reading lists since the fall of 2003. “I read it. I don’t see the academic value in it. Everything presented to the kids should be positive or historical, not negative.”

Now, because we are lazy, we don’t normally stir to major research, but once upon a time, we were young and we read many, many books by Lois Lowry. It seemed rather suspicious to us that she’d suddenly go off and offer up a book with negative messages. It would be as unusual for the genre as it would be for the author. So we checked with experts* on the subject, and, as suspected, the ultimate theme of the book is very positive. In fact, our experts could not be more definite on this point.

But it’s dark, we said, trying to push our experts into saying more, possibly something incriminating. Oh yes, they agreed, it’s definitely not for every child. But, they continued (and we could hear the agreement quite clearly, despite the fact that only one expert was speaking directly into the phone…the other was shouting detailed information about the book from the other room. It gives new meaning to long distance), the subject matter is not unusual, considering the age group. And story does an excellent job of speaking to today’s kids. There was more shouting about the importance of using the book as a starting place for big discussions — either that or we were being asked how our weekend was going.

Parents should absolutely vet what their kids read (though, despite the mother’s best attempts, we read quite a bit of what we suspect was age-inappropriate material, with only minimal disastrous results). Parents should not attempt to stop other children from benefitting from fine literature. And, much as it pains us to say this, much of what today’s kids face is not positive and/or historical; we have a feeling this utopian vision only existed on 1950’s television. Real life can be pretty scary, and fiction is a great way to help kids face challenging situations.

* – Actual real experts who have read the book and spent time with children who have read the book.

File Under: Square Pegs

4 responses so far ↓

  • Susan Gable // Jan 10, 2005 at 9:47 am

    I’ve read THE GIVER, and it’s a wonderful book – very, very thought-provoking. It’s about a society where everyone is “equal” and special but yet, unknown the majority of the population, the elderly, the infirm, ill babies – all are euthenisized. Because they have no place in a “perfect” society. In fact, identical twins are not allowed, either, because how could there be two of the same if each person is supposed to be special?

    When the protagonist of the story learns about this, he decides to flee his society.

    Given the way things are going in the world today (take, for example, the Netherlands making it legal for doctors to kill babies who are born with medical problems – without obtaining the parents’ consent) these kinds of issues are definitely things that should be discussed – not swept under the rug.

    I think this book should be read by most adults. In fact, I think next year I’ll suggest for One Book, One Erie.

    That’s the beauty of science fiction – it gives us ways to think about society, opens opportunties for discussion.

    Of course, pretending the book doesn’t exist, there’s a good answer. (sarcasm alert. (G)) Let’s not allow our children to read anything that might actually make them think and ask some important questions. (sigh)

  • Brenda Coulter // Jan 10, 2005 at 12:03 pm

    Booksquare, I’m uncomfortable with your characterization of this as “yet another case of parents and bookbanning.” That’s pretty incendiary language when all we’re talking about is five parents who don’t want their own children to be required to read The Giver or to be forced to listen to classroom discussions about it. That’s parental guidance, not bookbanning.

    Nowhere in the linked article do we read that the parents have demanded the book be removed from the school library. Nowhere are they quoted as saying that other people’s kids should not be allowed to read the book. According to the article, the book is part of that school’s curriculum, meaning that students are required to read it. Yes, a kid could opt not to read it, but it’s still going to be discussed in front of him, and that’s why the parents want it off the list.

    I read and discussed The Giver with my elder son when he was in middle school, and it was a positive experience for both of us. But I believe the rights of parents to direct their children’s moral education should be absolute, so if a parent believes the book would undermine the values her child is being taught at home, that’s all I need to hear. I am solidly on her side.

  • booksquare // Jan 11, 2005 at 7:46 pm

    Brenda, We’re going to have to disagree on this point, and maybe this is because we come from different perspectives. I am absolutely in favor of parental guidance (but will not, for the sake of brevity (g), go off on how I wish parents would do more when it comes to violence in various media), but everything I’ve read about this book indicates it sends an incredibly positive message to young readers. The subject matter clearly makes some parents uncomfortable, but I’m not sure that “positive” or “negative” themes represent values. I’m also not sure that only exposing children to positive topics does them any good. I wish I could feel differently, but as my mother has been in the public education system my whole life, I know the truth of many childrens’ lives, and they need ways to confront and understand the good, bad, and really ugly of the world.

    Removing a book from a reading list takes away a powerful teaching tool. Yes, discussing reading with your children is critical (actually, I went the other way and discussed this book with my mother — she’s read it many times with students), but discussing these subjects, especially given the theme of peer pressure, in a group setting offers a different experience for kids. Removing this book from reading lists takes this opportunity away from the other kids. I’m not a huge fan of kids sitting out discussions by going to the library or engaging in alternative activities, but this is always an option in the classroom.

    As for “another” case, there have been many this year, most with predictable themes. Last month’s was The Catcher in the Rye. At least in the case of The Giver, parents had read the book; in the Catcher situation, the parents quoted freely admitted they hadn’t read the book, but that shouldn’t matter. I applaud parents getting involved in education, but I’m not sure parents who take this approach are looking at the big picture — and this is where we differ, clearly. Rather than seeing this book as undermining moral values, it seems to me this is a chance to reinforce values.

    (PS — sorry your post didn’t pop up right away. For some reason [and disagreeing with me isn’t it!], you went into the moderation queue. I see nothing in it that would have triggered the filters. )

  • Susan Gable // Jan 12, 2005 at 7:39 am

    Brenda, I agree that parents have the right to decide for THEIR child. What I don’t think is right is them trying to decide for everyone else’s child. If she doesn’t want her kid to read the book, fine, the teacher can assign another book to her child. But removing it from the list allows her to impose her judgement on everyone else.