Critics of book restrictions are wrong: They’re not all suitable for kids

(The Daily Signal) – Our English teachers taught us to use extreme caution before writing a word such as “always” or “never.”

Such totalizing words are rarely accurate, since most…

(The Daily Signal) – Our English teachers taught us to use extreme caution before writing a word such as “always” or “never.”

Such totalizing words are rarely accurate, since most principles have exceptions. But you won’t see this advice applied by critics of “book bans,” who tend to speak as though no book chosen by a school librarian is ever inappropriate for kids.

My colleagues at The Heritage Foundation found that about three-fourths of books on lists of “banned books” are actually still in the libraries where the books were challenged. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)

Many of the rest are indeed inappropriate for children. They contain “images of people engaged in sex acts or graphic descriptions of those acts.”

The material is so graphic, in fact, that it’s censored on broadcasts to avoid Federal Communications Commission fines. Moreover, movies and TV shows have ratings.

Anyway, none of the books are “banned.” Kids generally can bring their own copies to school or buy them at a bookstore.

Since 1982, the Supreme Court has made it clear that while books may not be removed from school libraries to suppress ideas, there are legitimate reasons to remove books.

Those reasons include when a book is obscene in general or is obscene as to minors, and when a book is inappropriate for the age, grade, or developmental level of students. When a book is inappropriate for the curriculum, it also can be removed from classrooms.

That point should be obvious. After all, the Supreme Court also has permitted censorship of school newspapers. The high court also has permitted punishment of students who held a banner reading “bong hits for Jesus.” In that case, the school argued successfully that it could in fact suppress an idea if that idea were about promoting the use of illegal drugs.

And the court has permitted punishment of a student who used pervasively vulgar language at a school assembly.

Adults really do, it turns out, have a role in determining what expression is acceptable for kids at school.

And some of the same schools that resist book challenges have speech codes. They unconstitutionally ban “hate speech” and “misgendering,” but if the same language is in a book, they think nobody ought to challenge it.

Next week, I will be making these points at a private school, where “book banning” is the conference topic. I will note that the school’s libraries use the term “age-appropriate” to describe their book curation. Do librarians never make mistakes?

I also will tell the students that a complete opposition to book challenges is unlikely to express their true position. Do the kids really think they were ready for the sexual, violent, gory, or scary content of any book when they were in the first grade? Do they think their younger siblings should be able to access all of that at school?

Do the kids really think it would be appropriate for the school librarian to advertise to first graders a book making the case against the existence of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy?

More likely, kids still believe that preserving innocence is one of their values. That argument should hold for most adults, too.

Probably no one is arguing that every challenged book is inappropriate for kids. Just as librarians can err in adding a book to the library, schools can err in removing them. The key is to develop a review process that puts the most knowledgeable people in charge—parents and, secondarily, teachers know the kids best—and makes the fewest mistakes.

For those critics of “book bans” who are unwilling to admit that even one book could ever be bad enough to remove from a school library, it’s time to mature and acknowledge that unlike the printed page, life is not black and white. Then we can have the important discussion of how to properly protect kids.