By Chris Crutcher
Happy Banned Books Week, everybody! My favorite week of the year, if I don’t count Organ Transplant Week. Only kidding. Organ transplants only get a day, but of my 15 books, 14 have been banned and/or challenged somewhere here in the Land of the Free. I’ve defended my own – and other authors’ – works at school board meetings in several states, at state and national school and public library conferences, state and national English teachers conferences, and at one point face-to-face with South Carolina’s state superintendent of public instruction.
Early in my writing career, I relished the fight … because it was so easy. The majority of challenges came from the “Christian Right” (whom I deemed as neither, based on my teenage years as an acolyte in the Episcopal church), an assembly of control freaks elevated during the 1980s into a voting bloc that embraced zero allegiance to the First Amendment and its two fundamental building blocks of American democracy: freedom of speech and the separation of church and state.
I was well-armed. By the time my father was approximately the same age as I was when I graduated from college, he had flown 35 missions over Nazi Germany as the pilot of a B-17 bomber. He came home a self-described “conservative” and a patriot, at a time when even semi-educated people understood that “conservative” and “conservation” come from the same root word.
My dad would have run an ice pick through his ear before allowing a book to be banned on his watch. He believed he fought a war for that.
I’d have been far less frivolous in my defense of free expression and thought had I been aware of the astonishing numbers of Americans paying only lip service to a Constitution which they claimed to embrace, and had I realized that the banning of literature was merely a run-up to the main event: the banning of truth. The banning of proven science. The banning of well- researched, established history.
Here in Spokane, up in Mead, out in the Valley and across the country teachers, librarians and school board members are being harassed and threatened simply because they want students to be educated – to learn what is true.
Those threats come from cowards; no other word for it. I mean, what are bullies, if not cowards in camo? Lazy, complacent cowards at that.
It’s lazy to believe what you wish had happened rather than discover what actually happened. It’s complacent to ignore proven scientific theory because it’s incompatible with long-held myths, and cowardly to council fear in the face of fact in order to promote narcissistic legends to our (white) kids in order that they too will evolve into lazy, complacent, cowardly adults … or bullies.
Are those who oppose revealing the truth of slavery and its consequences, or the nearly complete genocide of American Indians, or the incarceration of Japanese American citizens during World War II, or the obvious natural biology behind the creation of LGBTQ humans, or the carnage human beings are bringing down on our planet, simply bellowing to our youth, “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”?
Writer-philosopher George Santayana is often quoted as saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What does that say about those who are never made aware of the past? That might be a good question for a Holocaust survivor.
Understand this: The groups and individuals clamoring for the definitive voice in our public school curricula are not educators. Extremely few, if any, have spent four to six years earning education degrees, having chosen a career prohibitive of great riches. They haven’t spent tens, hundreds or even thousands of hours before a classroom of 30 or more students, sharing content prepared in such a way that it might tickle those students’ imaginations, in order that those who go on to a college or university will go actually prepared – and that those who choose a different path can lay claim to an authentic high school education.
I can imagine a time in the near future when real educators decide they’re fed up with the bullies bent on destroying their profession and simply walk away. Maybe they’ll tutor for parents determined that their children be ready to face the challenges of the complicated, fragile future they’re headed into, leaving the lords of indoctrination to fill their vacancies. It would be financially costly to those educators, but I’ll wager it wouldn’t last long.
What teacher or librarian, what guardian of accurate information in any discipline, wants to go into, or stay in, a profession where the decision makers are advocates of ignorance? Y’all blowhards best be careful what you ask for. You might have to go online and apply for a provisional teaching certificate.
Chris Crutcher is an award-winning author of young adult books. He worked as a therapist and child protection advocate. Originally from Cascade, Idaho, Crutcher earned a degree from Eastern Washington State College and later worked in education and mental health in urban Oakland, California. He moved to Spokane in the early 1980s to continue his career. He lectures at schools, universities and conferences around the world.
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