After my dad said “good night” and the lights went off, I huddled under the covers with — not a flashlight and a book, in my case, but a radio. At 14, I tuned into that station in Chapel Hill with the soft-voiced DJ who played Bob Dylan and The Righteous Brothers. Or the Chicago station — amazing how far the airwaves travel — that played the “CBS Radio Mystery Theatre.” This was my little hidden rebellious world. (Not that Dad would have minded any of that content earlier in the evening.) I traveled, by sound, to other places until they lulled me to sleep.
Kids. Powerful forces drive us toward whatever we think we need to ensure our survival and enrich our developing minds. Parents may fight it and they may prevail for some time. But human will wins out.
I think about that when I think about the current conservative rage to empty school library shelves of material they deem “inappropriate” — books that many didn’t even know existed before their party went looking for another wedge to drive between the American people for political advantage.
So it is that outraged parents with heads full of conspiracy theories are accusing school boards and school librarians of everything just short of pedophilia because their library shelves — not their classes — contain titles that may be useful to a handful of confused and struggling children.
I have no doubt that the protesting parents are sincere. They’re worried about their kids. That’s perfectly understandable.
Many of them are also misguided and misinformed — especially if they think their kids might become gay or transgender because of a picture they saw in a graphic novel.
That’s not how that works. That’s not how any of that works.
But they continue to think so — to see a basic human biological factor as sin, as something they should punish as they would lying or shoplifting — despite the witness and life experience of literally millions of people throughout the world and history who say this is what they are, not what they do.
Admittedly, some school organizations are doing themselves no favors when they respond by asserting their expertise. They need to find ways to pander to parents’ rights. Like their challengers.
But more important than the rights of parents are the rights of children.
In North Carolina, our constitution guarantees children the right to a sound, basic education.
They also have the right to live; the right to nourishment. And they deserve to be exposed to attitudes they might not find at home.
Children don’t belong to their parents — parents belong to their children, as expeditors and stewards and guides. They serve them poorly if they try to create younger versions of themselves.
We in the media try to avoid analogies that reference the unique horrors of the Holocaust and slavery. Anti-vaxxers who choose to wear yellow stars on their coats trivialize such atrocities.
But it’s hard not to detect an atrocious stench coming from Spotsylvania County in Virginia, where two school board members last week advocated burning books about race and sexuality.
“I think we should throw those books in a fire,” school board member Rabih Abuismail said. School board member Kirk Twigg said he wanted to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”
Nazis burn books.
They’ve been called on to resign and they should do so.
Even if they don’t, though, even if this sanitizing witch hunt continues, they’re going to lose.
According to comic-book news site CBR.com, following parental complaints of Jerry Craft’s graphic novel “New Kid,” the book’s sales have increased. I suspect that’s true of many of the books that conservatives like N.C. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson have made controversial. Lots of kids are curious about the messages from which they’re supposed to be shielded. They’re going to read them.
You’d think parents would have learned by now. You’d think they’d remember their own childhoods.
Books are powerful; they open worlds and minds. The right books will teach oppressed kids that there’s more to life than what they find in school or at home. They’ll teach bullied kids that they can be different and still find a place in the world. They’ll tell kids not to give up and not accept the present — things get better.
Some kids won’t make it — they’ll give in to the dark voices that say they’re abominations who don’t deserve to live.
But I have faith that most of them will make it. They have the resolve. They’ll find the support. This is what David Bowie knew when he wrote:
These children that you spit on
As they try to change their world
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.