Banning books is, once again, in the news. The current iteration, across many states, is likely a consequence of the public outcry over Critical Race Theory (CRT), even though most public enemies of CRT don’t understand what it is. In fact, calls to ban Critical Race Theory have become code for “disallow any and all school curricular materials that develop an accurate American history of slavery and treatment of people of color.” This means books must be banned.
The history of book banning is as long as the history of books. Advocates of banning this book or that typically have what they call reasons that would compel any thoughtful person to ban the book(s) in question. Having considered many such reasons, I have come to the conclusion that fear is the primary driver in book banning.
I suspect that those afraid are, for the most part, parents. For example, parents often fear that exposing their children to school studies that accurately explain slavery and the treatment of people of color in American history will lead their children to ideas on race different from their own. They wouldn’t want that.
Most parents objecting to teaching accurate information about the history of race in America would rather not think about these issues and they certainly don’t want their children raising questions about them. Such parents especially fear their children learning history that is at odds with what they, the parents, would rather believe. Teaching the history of race in America, and teaching it accurately, would make students uncomfortable. Even worse, it would make parents uncomfortable.
Why not pass laws that will not allow any school or teacher to teach anything that will make students uncomfortable? Why not ban books that explain the truth about slavery in America? Why not ban books that explain historical American treatment of people of color? Why not shelter our children from uncomfortable history? Why not teach that everyone in American is equal even though it’s not true?
If we don’t ban teaching students the truth about slavery and racism they might have compassion for victims of racial abuse. Students might think slaves and other people of color were treated badly. They might even think people of color are treated badly today. There are parents who wouldn’t want that.
Banning books that expose the truth about race in America is really about slowing or stopping students from learning the truth and thinking for themselves. Books are banned because they might challenge what we want to believe. They might open minds. They might even open hearts.
The biggest problem with banning books is that the next step is burning books. Taking the step after that means banning people. We know the step after that.
If we are to have democracy, if we are to have government of, by, and for its citizens, then ideas cannot be banned. Books cannot be banned. People cannot be banned. We cannot be led by fear. Democracy is about freedom. The truth shall set us free.