Today is the last day of Banned Books Week this year, and I couldn’t let the date pass without a mention of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
No, I don’t mean Lord Voldemort. I am referring to Harry Potter, himself.
Despite the fact that parents, educators and children credit him with inspiring or renewing a love of reading for young people throughout the world, he is persona non grata in just about every public school in the United States.
The reason? Some superstitious parents fear the use of the word “witch,” despite the fact that author J.K. Rowling was not writing about religion.
In this, the 30th year of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, the Harry Potter series is number one. Number one on the list of banned books over the last decade, that is.
Although the series was never officially banned at my daughter’s elementary school, there was a de facto ban. I recall one year when I was helping to plan a PTA event in which activities would center around some of the children’s favorite books. Harry Potter was quite popular, with even third graders carrying the thick books around and reading them in every spare moment. But when I suggested craft activities based on the books, the principal and teachers present … paused. No, they would not recommend … Yes, they knew how much the children loved the stories … But some parents …
Teachers, like parents, are often faced with choosing which battles they want to fight. And so, otherwise outstanding educators quashed an activity that might have enhanced the love of literacy among students, feeling under pressure by a small minority of very vocal parents who professed to believe in a mighty God who apparently can’t muster the strength to overcome the influence of some words written by a muggle.
Some have referred to this kind of undo influence over what our children can read a form of bullying by a few prejudiced parents. And — although I generally think of “bullying” as a vague and overly broad term — in this case I think there may be some truth to the characterization.
In addition to being a form of bullying, this sort of censorship is also a violation of our students’ First Amendment rights. Students have a right to hear and to read ideas that may expand their minds. And we wonder why our young people struggle with critical thinking? Only when children are allowed to read about and struggle with difficult ideas can they learn to think critically. Our responsibility as parents and educators is to guide them through this thought process, not to quash it.
P.S. interested in finding out whether you are a “literary lightweight” or a “rebellious reader”? Take the American Civil Liberties Union Banned Books Quiz: http://www.aclu.org/free-speech/banned-books-quiz
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