Neil Gaiman recently blogged about a couple of articles about Banned Books Week.  For those who don’t know, Banned Books Week is a celebration supported by the ALA to recognize the presence of censorship in our community and to encourage the public to read books that have been banned or threatened in one way or another.  Mr. Gaiman criticized a Wall Street Journal editorial that stops just short of calling BBW unAmerican and challenges the very idea that the censorship recognized by BBW actually exists.  He also recommends a rebuttal from the Huffington Post asserting that BBW is still very much relevant in the America of today.

After I read the WSJ editorial, I was (and am) outraged.  The author states from the very beginning of the editorial’s headline that the ALA and BBW find “Censorship Where There Is None.”  The very idea that the ALA are, in fact, the shadowy censors ensuring that their agenda is published in every library and classroom.  I half expect the author to have also written several pieces about how libraries are really pushing a “homosexual agenda,” not education, and that President Obama is concealing evidence of an imminent space alien invasion who want to turn kids into pinko commies.

While I have many problems with the WSJ’s editorial, in particular I contest the author’s assertion that parents seeking to “protect” their children from so-called inappropriate material is harmless.  It doesn’t matter that they usually fail.  The fact that they are trying to ban books from public-access and educational institutions is cause enough for alarm.  As is often the case for would-be censors, they hide behind the veil of the “public good” when they try to limit the knowledge available to others.  A free society fundamentally cannot restrict what knowledge its citizens may possess, and yet these same people often argue that the government is too invasive and tries to take education and responsibility away from parents.

According to the author:

What inflames the ALA, in other words, are attempts by parents to guide their children’s education. One of the “frequently asked questions” on the ALA’s Web site is: “Can’t parents tell the librarian what material they don’t think children should have?” The Manifesto’s answer is clearly “no.”

The author’s assertion here is that parents have a right to “guide their children’s education” by making decisions about what their children are allowed to read.  I applaud such a statement, since parents must and do play a fundamental role in the healthy development of their children, but I simply cannot applaud the insidious intention behind it.  Parents may determine what their own children read, but they do not now and never have had the ability to make the choice for any other parent.

Sure, a parent who wants their child to read a certain book can obtain it elsewhere.  But, as the author himself points out, those who challenge books in libraries and public schools are almost always a minority.  Why should the minority limit what is available to the rest of the community?  In America the minority is ensured a voice.  As the ALA notes, they exercise it on a regular basis.  That is all well and good.  But just as it is beneficial for the society as a whole that the minority speak out, it is also beneficial that, at least in this case, they lose their case.  If they do not want their child to read Harry Potter then they are empowered to make that decision, but the opportunity must remain available to every other family in that community so that other parents can help guide their own children’s education.  That is the power of America, and that is the power of democracy.