Those banning books are harming children, not protecting them

I was chatting online recently with a friend from my childhood, someone I grew up with in Southern California. We were sharing memories of when, as kids, we would be waiting anxiously for the Long Beach Public Library’s Bookmobile to show up so we could return borrowed books we had already read and borrow others that fed our interests. Our schools encouraged reading back then, and I’m grateful that they did. I love books still, and both Katie and I read every day.

But I don’t ever recall state leaders declaring books in our library to be “obscene” or “pornographic;” those books were behind the counter in convenience stores or in your dad’s nightstand.

Books are great: They take you on adventures and expose you to new ideas, cultures and history. Books super-charge your imagination. So it makes me sad to see our governor here in

Texas once again interfering with what books a school library might have for students to read, especially since he seems specifically concerned over books about LGBTQ identities or experiences.

Just because a parent or two gets wound up about a particular book is no reason to remove that book. Maybe, instead, it should be celebrated! Books that generate passion are often classics.

Seems like parents who demand books be removed from the library are the same kind of people who go on a diet and then demand that restaurants remove all the desserts from their menu so no one else can eat them either.

Hey, just because you don’t want your kid to read a book, shouldn’t mean my kid can’t! Besides, we read that which interests us. When was the last time you saw a kid read a book — other than assigned reading — that they weren’t interested in?

It’s also important to note that the term “obscene” is a subjective. What might be “obscene” to you might not be obscene to me, and what I consider “obscene” might be something you think is perfectly fine. The Supreme Court said, for something to be obscene, it must be:
• Prurient in nature (exhibiting an excessive interest in sexual matters)
• Completely devoid of scientific, political, educational, or social value, and
• Violate local community standards.

I don’t believe my life is any of those things, and I haven’t come across a book in a school library that rises to that level.

The court also addressed the issue of pornography (a word tossed around by the governor) in 1964 by Justice Potter Stewart, to describe his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio and why the material at issue in the case was not obscene therefore was protected speech that could not be censored, wrote: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [‘hard-core pornography’], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

Generally speaking, those books probably haven’t won awards from the American Library Association.

It just gives me a creepy feeling when state officials want to describe books that help students understand who they are — or help them understand a friend or family member or even just help them understand in general — and label those books as pornography.

My daughter loved the Harry Potter books, but she is neither a wizard nor transphobic. Following 9/11, I read books on terrorism and what leads to the kind of extremism that manifests itself in violence, but that didn’t make me a terrorist. And, see, your kid reading a book about queer identities doesn’t make them queer, any more than reading Moby Dick makes them a sea captain (or a white whale).

I think instead of limiting the variety of books and ideas available to students, we should broaden it! We should encourage kids to read more — to read whatever feeds their interest, whatever that interest is.

Then, as a parent, how about instead of fighting with the library about what books shouldn’t be there, you spend that time talking to your kid about the book they just read. Have them share what they learned and discuss it with them.

Where does all of this fear come from? No book is going to turn your child gay — or straight, for that matter. Censoring ideas isn’t part of the fabric of a free society. It’s quite the opposite.

Denying the racist history of America not only hides the truth, it also further delays the healing process. Trust your kids to be able to read the truth about our history and then they can work to help make things better.

I was pretty angry when I learned about the atrocities that were committed by Christopher Columbus. I was also upset with my school system that I didn’t learn about the Tulsa race massacre and the meaning of Juneteenth until I moved to Texas as an adult. Neither of those historical events were taught in the California Schools.

I know parents want to preserve their children’s innocence as long as possible. But kids grow up, so let’s not make them grow up ashamed of their bodies and with reproductive health a mystery. Let’s not brand LGBQIA people as pornographic.

As a parent, instead of banning books and squashing ideas, I’d be pushing schools to add Critical Thinking to high school curricula. We need to teach students HOW to think, not WHAT to think.