Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thomas Sowell on Banned Books Week - BBW is "Shameless Propaganda ... Now Institutionalized With a Week of Its Own"

(REGULARLY  UPDATED)
Thomas Sowell wrote about the American Library Association's "Banned Books Week" calling it "National Hogwash Week." As the media rebroadcast ALA propaganda uncritically, let us remember "Banned Books Week" is total propaganda. No book has been banned in the USA for many decades; what with the Internet, it is nearly impossible now. See "Hogwash is Happening," by Thomas Sowell, Washington Times, 3 October 1994.

Even a former ALA Councilor said, emphasis mine:
It also highlights the thing we know about Banned Books Week that we don't talk about much--the bulk of these books are challenged by parents for being age-inappropriate for children. While I think this is still a formidable thing for librarians to deal with, it's totally different from people trying to block a book from being sold at all.
Here are choice quotes from Thomas Sowell, emphasis mine:
  • "The kind of shameless propaganda that has become commonplace in false charges of 'censorship' or 'book banning' has apparently now been institutionalized with a week of its own."
  • "False charges of banning or censorship are so common that they are seldom challenged for evidence or even for a definition."
  • "To call a book 'banned' because someone decided that it was unsuitable for their particular students or clientele would be to make at least 99 percent of all books 'banned.'"
  • "If the criterion of censorship is that the objection comes from the general public, rather than from people who run schools and libraries, then that is saying the parents and taxpayers have no right to a say about what is done with their own children or their own money."
  • "[O]ther books in the display were pure propaganda for avante-garde notions that are being foisted onto vulnerable and unsuspecting children in the name of 'education.'"
  • "No one calls it censorship if the collected works of Rush Limbaugh are not put into libraries and schools in every town, hamlet and middlesex village. It is only when the books approved by the elite intelligentsia are objected to by others that is it called censorship. Apparently we are not to talk back to our betters."
  • "Those who are spreading hysteria about book banning and censorship know that they are in a war, but too many of those who thoughtlessly repeat their rhetoric do not."
See also:
    The ALA response to parental complaints was the creation a few years ago of a national event they call "Banned Books Week" in which outrageous charges are made about parents supposedly attempting to ban classics like "Huckleberry Finn" and "Of Mice and Men." It's an ingenious tactic considering the ALA seems intent on phasing out the classics. However, parent researchers and bloggers have found many of these allegations to be false or grossly exaggerated; for example, the ALA counts as censorship incidents in which a parent simply requests that the school or library be more age selective when assigning books or amend a teacher's mandatory reading list to include other books not so offensive.
        For making the modest demand that schools not flood their children's minds with filth until, for example, the 8th grade, the ALA, PTA, various state Department of Educations and some loony anti-Christian groups have responded by publishing outlandish strategy manuals on how to deal with "extremists," the code word for any parent with a religious-based value system.
            But the ALA will not compromise on such common-sense requests by parents. Banned Books Week was clearly designed by the ALA to direct attention away from the onslaught of violent, obscene literature in America’s schools. And it’s not just books; it's the Internet as well. When I co-sponsored a bill to have filters placed on library computers so as to block pornographic and racist web sites, the ALA went ballistic. They flew in their big guns and in front of a hearing room full of shocked parents, argued that "the First Amendment is more important than parental concerns about content" and made clear they were totally against any effort to block content of any kind from children no matter what age. Indeed, the ALA web site arrogantly states, "Librarians do not serve in loco parentis."
                The idea that our Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment to allow children to view obscene literature is preposterous but the ALA is on a crusade to persuade all libraries to treat children as adults. It’s a bizarre crusade, because, legally and morally, school children are minors and school boards and librarians have been entrusted by parents to protect them from such literature. Indeed, when a library Internet filter bill was introduced in Congress, the ALA went all out to fight it. It passed but ended up in the courts where again, the ALA spent a fortune fighting it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. They lost. Thank God.
                • "Marking 25 Years of Banned Books Week," by Judith Krug, Creator of Banned Books WeekCurriculum Review, 46:1 September 2006, emphasis mine:
                  On rare occasion, we have situations where a piece of material is not what it appears to be on the surface and the material is totally inappropriate for a school library.  In that case, yes, it is appropriate to remove materials. If it doesn't fit your material selection policy, get it out of there.
                • "American Library Association Shamed," by Nat Hentoff, Laurel-Leader Call, 2 March 2007.
                So bizarre is the ALA leadership, along with a cadre of Castro admirers on the Governing Council — in its abandonment of their fellow librarians — it refuses to post on its “Book Burning in the 21st Century” Web site the extensive, documented court transcripts of the “trials” that sent the librarians to prison. Those judges ordered the “incineration” of the prisoners’ libraries, including works by Martin Luther King Jr. and George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”
                ....
                A key ALA official, Judith Krug, heads its office of Intellectual Freedom. In my many years of reporting on the ALA’s sterling record of protecting American librarians from censorship, I often quoted her in admiration. But now, she said at an ALA meeting about supporters of the caged librarians, “I’ve dug in my heels ... I refuse to be governed by people with an agenda.” The Cuba issue, she continued, “wouldn’t die,” though she’d like to “drown it.”
                Kleinman accuses the ALA of hyperbole in celebrating Banned Books Week. "The whole purpose of Banned Books Week is to provide this kind of misinformation," he said. "The ALA misleads people into thinking that if you keep an inappropriate book from a child that is considered censorship. It is not."
                In the common-law tradition, censorship refers specifically to the government's prior restraint on publication. None of the sponsors claim this has happened; the acts they have in mind are perpetrated by private citizens. Yet the cases on the map almost all involve ordinary people lodging complaints with school and library authorities. Before Banned Books Week began in 1982, such behavior was known as petitioning the government for a redress of grievances.
                ....
                There's something odd about a national organization with a $54 million budget and 67,000 members reacting so zealously against a few unorganized, law-abiding parents whose efforts, by any sensible standard, are hopelessly ineffective. The ALA's members have immeasurably more power than the "censors" they denounce to decide what books are available in our communities, but this power is so familiar it's invisible. Why do parents' public petitions constitute censorship, while librarians' hidden verdicts do not? A spokesman for the ALA once tackled this question in the Boston Globe: "The selection criteria that librarians use may not always be what everybody wants. I don't see that it's a real problem." Move along, folks, nothing to see here.
                • "Chicago Tribune's Julia Keller Endorses ALA's Banned Books Week," by Laurie Higgins, Illinois Family Institute, 28 September 2009.
                • "Celebrate 'Banned' Books Week!," by Annoyed Librarian, Library Journal, 30 September 2009, emphasis added:
                The ALA's definition of censorship has no relationship whatsoever to what everyone else in the entire world understands by the word.  It's incoherent and self-serving.
                Calls from Foxnews.com to Caldwell-Stone were directed to American Library Association Media Relations Manager Macey Morales, who asked for more information about PFOX's allegations and then failed to return follow-up e-mails and phone calls.
                The American Library Association refused to do anything about the book banning. This is actually predictable behavior for them – they are a left-wing advocacy group.
                A few weeks ago, the American Library Association announced with much fanfare that it was celebrating the ridiculous event called "Banned Books Week." This announcement accused Americans of being "zealots and bigots who live in fear of discourse" and of being "screamers and book banners and book burners." This Association arranged events and set up displays at libraries all over the country to pretend we have a problem with censorship.
                It's always been clear to me that the ALA OIF likes to dress up book challenges as "censorship" to draw attention to themselves and to pretend there is some sort of threat to "intellectual freedom" in the intellectually freest country in the world. It's hard to get worked up about some book challenge when the book is freely available in libraries and bookstores all over the country. But when it's censorship, then by God we're going to get upset by it! 
                Banned books are a sign of an oppressive regime. That said, forcing age-inappropriate reading materials on youngsters not ready to deal with the material -- and doing so just for the sake of a bigger principle -- is just as oppressive. Enter the American Library Association. .... Can't we trust the ALA to look out for the kids? The short answer is a resounding "no." .... Unless you are willing to sacrifice your child at the altar of political correctness, it may be wise to question the age-appropriateness of some books.
                Banned Book Week is a farce and an insult to the intelligence and goodwill of the taxpayers who pay for local public libraries and staff salaries.  Neither the American Library Association [ALA] nor the local community library is a "governmental" agency.  It is the taxpayers who own their community library and should have the freedom to determine the policies that regulate this community service institution.  The ALA, a private, non-governmental group of associated librarians, has incrementally usurped the freedoms of clients - especially parents - to determine which books should be selected for their library shelves.

                If anyone bans books, it is the radical American Library Association, which has run rough shod over our libraries for too many years and now solely determines which books are or are NOT ordered for display.

                It has been proven that books that have been banned from library shelves are those that the ALA "selection process" does not allow.
                Although I’ve written a lot about "banned" books, my primary objections to OIF shenanigans can be condensed to two.

                1) By its own extremist logic, the OIF is incapable of arguing against making hard core pornography or excessively violent books or films available for young children. Everything is merely "information," and everyone regardless of age somehow has a right to all that information. In the case of Internet pornography, they apparently have a duty to view the information if they happen to be passing by. Not only can they offer no argument against it, but if any concerned parents ask that such material be removed from the children's section of a library, the OIF condemns them as censors.

                Despite the high-minded rhetoric, practical instances of challenges almost always involve what is appropriate or inappropriate for children. Any group that is incapable of nuanced ethical argument distinguishing the needs of children from adults deserves not only to be ignored, but morally condemned.

                2) The OIF uses deceptive language in their claims about "censorship." I expect such dissembling rhetoric from politicians, but I prefer not to have it from my professional association. A library removing or not buying a book isn't government censorship. Government censorship is very clear when it happens – just look to China or North Korea – but it is extremely rare in the United States. The OIF changes the meaning of "censorship" because it's a strong word, and it makes their crusade against almost non-existent government censorship sound stronger.

                Government censorship prevents the publication of information. Period. That's what it means, and everyone but the ALA knows it. If a book were really censored, a library wouldn't be able to buy it in the first place, much less remove it. Recently, the Pentagon bought all 10,000 copies of the first edition of a spy memoir and destroyed them, claiming that they contained information that could be damaging to national security. This is the best attempt at government censorship I've seen in the United States since the Nixon era. Had they not bungled the affair by clearing the book and then later un-clearing it, it would be tempting to give the Pentagon the benefit of the doubt, because there are secrets of national security that protect American lives. It would still be censorship, but sometimes censorship is justified, and the right to free speech isn't absolute. If the OIF really knew anything about the First Amendment, they would know this.

                Because of these two flaws in OIF thinking, it's difficult to take them seriously. By using such extremist logic and sloppy language, they manage to turn what should be a serious debate about intellectual freedom and tolerance into a farce. A defense of intellectual freedom is admirable, but it can be defended without resort to irrational extremism or deceptive language.
                • "ALA's Ironic 'Banned Books Week,'" by Laurie Higgins, Illinois Family Institute, 19 October 2010:
                In a 1995 interview with Beverly Goldberg, the highly respected Judith F. Krug, decades-long president of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, had this to say about the importance of intellectual diversity in library book collections:

                We have to serve the information needs of all the community and for so long "the community" that we served was the visible community.... And so, if we didn't see those people, then we didn't have to include them in our service arena. The truth is, we do have to.
                ...
                We never served the gay community.  Now, we didn't serve the gay community because there weren't materials to serve them.  You can't buy materials if they're not there.  But part of our responsibility is to identify what we need and then to begin to ask for it.  Another thing we have to be real careful about is that even though the materials that come out initially aren't wonderful, it's still incumbent upon us to have that voice represented in the collection.  This was exactly what happened in the early days of the women's movement, and as the black community became more visible and began to demand more materials that fulfilled their particular information needs.  We can't sit back and say, "Well, they're not the high-quality materials I'm used to buying."  They're probably not, but if they are the only thing available, then I believe we have to get them into the library. [emphasis added]

                According to Krug, intellectual diversity is of such paramount importance that it trumps even quality of material.  And if resources are scarce, Krug believes it is the obligation of librarians to ask for them.

                In light of Krug's comments, consider the topic on which libraries have virtually no books. Community and public high school libraries carry dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction, on the topic of homosexuality and "transgenderism," almost every one of which espouses or embodies liberal assumptions about the nature and morality of homosexuality.  There can be found nary a one that espouses or embodies conservative assumptions about homosexuality.
                The hypocrisy is breathtaking.  Just as school reconvenes, here comes "Banned Books Week," Sept. 21 to 27, the contrived observance by the far-left American Library Association which has the essential theme that nothing, nothing in media, hurts children, unless it's a book critical of homosexuality, abortion or upholding the truth of Scripture. Or possibly advocating the right of Israel to defend itself. 
                Otherwise, any image, idea or scenario produced by adults motivated by perversion/greed/notoriety/atheism/anarchism should be available to inquiring young minds, because there's never an ill effect on children.  This is an odd position that would seem to nullify the value of books in general.  But then there's also the strong possibility that perversion/atheism, etc. are qualities some adults want children to develop.

                    20 comments:

                    1. I have been a librarian for a decade now. While it is true that it has been many years since a book was systematically challenged at the federal level, I have frequently received requests that certain books be removed from circulation due to content. In one large Midwestern library system for which I worked, we uncovered a patron who was actually defacing books of classical paintings that showed nudity.

                      This is an issue that should be of concern to us all. Obviously a library should be sensitive to the needs of its specific population of patrons, but our chief duty is to provide as wide a range of ideas and information as possible.

                      If a person objects to the content of a book or other item in a library, they are free to leave it on the shelf and even to do some pro-active parenting and help their minor children with their selections.

                      But the truth is, people do regularly complain about certain materials and call for their removal. This should alarm us all. The free expression of creative thought and ideas is integral to the values of a free nation, be it on a large scale of at the neighborhood level.

                      It seems to me the only "shameless propaganda" to see here is that coming from the person so vehemently attacking the idea of a week that is intended to promote library services and open creativity.

                      I hope Mr. Sowell can wipe the drool from his lips and find something more constructive to do with his time than rail against a thing that is at best something that raises awareness of certan aspects of our personal liberties and at worst is harmless.

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                    2. Thank you for the interesting comment, but not for the drool. ;-)

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                    3. Banned books - censored books - removed books = same thing!

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                    4. I guess Mr. Sowell forgot about Salman Rushdie and the international furor over "The Satanic Verses" and that it was not so long ago....

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                    5. Helen H. David, that book was not banned in the USA. No book has been banned in the USA for many decades. The American Library Association says books are banned every time a challenged book is legally removed from a public or school library by a community. That is false and misleading, and the ALA knows this to be false and misleading.

                      My concern is educating Americans about the ALA, not the world about library associations worldwide. The book you named was not banned in the USA.

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                    6. And just why do you think it is that there haven't been officially banned books for several decades? Because people strongly spoke out against the past attempts.

                      Merely claiming that there haven't been any banned books for 40 years or so is no guarantee that there won't be banned books in the future. To keep books from being banned in the future requires a continuing vigilance.

                      BBW is about far more than just banned books, but even in just that regard it still serves a good purpose - help keep society from getting to the point where it starts banning books again. For every year that passes without books being banned in the US, the BBW has at least some measure of credit.

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                    7. Okay, J, then why is it we don't duck and cover in elementary school anymore?

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                    8. I'm not sure what you mean. If you're talking about kids getting under their desks if a nuclear blast happened, that was a really dumb way to react - it wouldn't help.

                      That isn't anything to do with preventing nuclear wars though. BBW is partly about preventing the emergence of book banning. Kids ducking under their desks doesn't have anything to do with preventing nuclear wars - it's just reacting to a force out of their control. BBW is working to prevent book banning from happening in the future.

                      I'm not sure what you meant though, so I'm not sure if that answered you. That response of yours certainly seemed dumb enough that I really don't think you'll ever learn anything new, so I'm bowing out now.

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                    9. Here's more propaganda about BBW.

                      The ALA says the false BBW name cannot be changed because the ALA is "just one of several cosponsors of BBW." The implication, of course, is that each cosponsor is equally responsible for BBW and the ALA has no special status.

                      Judith Krug of the ALA's OIF tells an entirely different story, one that shows she was the one and only creator of BBW:

                      "Back in 1982, I got a call in June from the Association of American Publishers. They said, 'We've just discovered there have been a slew of books banned. We should do something to bring this to the attention of the American public. While you're guaranteed your freedom to read by the First Amendment, if you don't use that right, it's going to die.' I really liked the idea. And he said, 'One of the things we could do is to put all of the books that we know have been banned in the last 10 or 15 years in a cage, and put a chain around the cage so people can visualize that these books are locked up because somebody or some group doesn't want you to read them and you should make up your own mind about them.' So I went to the ALA's Intellectual Freedom Committee, laid the idea out before them, and six weeks later we celebrated the first Banned Books Week. And it has grown unbelievably since then. It's celebrated in thousands of libraries and a substantial number of bookstores."

                      Source: "Marking 25 Years of Banned Books Week," by Judith Krug, Curriculum Review, 46:1, Sep. 2006.

                      Obviously the ALA created BBW, specifically Judith Krug. The ALA is misleading people when it claims it cannot change the name because of the many cosponsors. Judith Krug could easily make the change and the cosponsors would follow suit. Instead, the propaganda value of keeping the false name is too valuable to the ALA OIF's efforts to control public libraries.

                      While I have presented the Curriculum Review reference, look at this quote. It proves the ALA's OIF is promoting Judith Krug's "beliefs" as being paramount to the interests of local citizens:

                      "Why do you believe it's so important to fight against book bans in schools?"

                      "Because schools are where children learn. Schools are where children have an opportunity to expand their minds, to look at things that they might not have any interest in until they're sitting in a classroom. It's so important to let them explore what's out there in the safe environment of the schools. If they have an issue or concern, they can talk to the teacher. It's absolutely vital to just turn kids loose in the library. Let the children try it. If they don't understand it, they're going to put it down, and what harm has been done? My belief is that if they do understand it, they're ready for it, and they should be reading it. Now, I know all parents don't agree with me, and that's all okay. But that's what I believe."

                      By the way, Judith Krug believes in book banning, using her false definition of banning:

                      "Are there ever instances when you think it's appropriate for a school to ban a book?"

                      "On rare occasion, we have situations where a piece of material is not what it appears to be on the surface and the material is totally inappropriate for a school library. In that case, yes, it is appropriate to remove materials. If it doesn't fit your material selection policy, get it out of there. But materials that adhere to the material selection statement that every school has, and that have been duly selected, we would fight alongside every librarian and every teacher to keep the books available."

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                    10. The ALA's enthusiasm surrounding Banned Book Week gives credence to the quote, below, by C.S. Lewis. We live in the most book-tolerent country on earth but we chose to direct our attention to the conservative boogie-men.
                      "We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger [censorship] and fix its approval on the virtue [freedom of expression] nearest to that vice [unbridled obscenity] which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under...Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism..."

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                    11. I never claimed that "The Satanic Verses" was banned. I said it caused international furor. One does not equal the other in every case.

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                    12. Banning anything is totally counterproductive--- having a book banned is a great publicity tool.
                      We should allow absolute free flow of information and that is why the internet is so hugely popular---it is the one medium where everyone can participate on an equal footing and not have their information controlled by huge TV Media Moguls who are funded by vested interest groupings in society

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                    13. I love the idea of this blog...it's time someone stood up!

                      http://www.illinoisfamily.org/news/contentview.asp?c=34565

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                    14. Thanks also for bringing this topic to attention

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                    15. Perhaps "Banned Book Week" is a misnomer. However, should Americans not be made aware of the dangers of censorship and allowing others to make decisions for them? I am not talking about children's books, I am talking about collections that consciously omit multiple sides to an issue. What it really is about is fanaticism and refusing to even allow another viewpoint to exist. Books have power. Why else would someone go through so much trouble to burn copies of the Quran in New York City on September 11, 2010?

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                    16. Amanda, I agree with you completely. I only wish the ALA would treat the matter seriously instead of as a means to ensure children retain access to inappropriate material.

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                    17. Who decides what's inappropriate for children? Is Harry Potter inappropriate? Shel Silverstein? Obviously the Marquis de Sade would be, but the real issue here is that there's a huge gray area. So, within reason, I agree with you. Unfortunately, there are some rather unreasonable people out there who do want Harry Potter pulled from the library because they think it will harm the minds of impressionable youth.
                      The ultimate question is this: why should the public be in charge of monitoring what kids read? Isn't that the responsibility of the parents?

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                      Replies
                      1. Good comment.

                        I agree there are unreasonable requests to remove material. Some can even be viewed as ridiculous. But the answer is simple. Instead of the facile answer that only parents are responsible, there are materials reconsideration policies in place for reasonable minds to consider the issue. Those policies are specifically designed, in part, to weed out the unreasonable requests. (In part they are designed to make it as hard as possible to remove anything, to place the focus on the personal characteristics of the person complaining, and to delay, delay, delay so the person gives up trying.)

                        You should know that a library is not a place where anything goes. The US Supreme Court said that. You don't just simply let anything in and leave it up to the parents to filter out what they wish.

                        Even the creator of Banned Books Week would remove inappropriate books from public schools in the right situation:

                        "On rare occasion, we have situations where a piece of material is not what it appears to be on the surface and the material is totally inappropriate for a school library. In that case, yes, it is appropriate to remove materials. If it doesn't fit your material selection policy, get it out of there."

                        Sadly, when the ALA misleads communities about book "banning," it does not advise communities of that reasonable statement from its own former leader. And notice she too talks about "inappropriate" material. I'm just following her lead.

                        Thank you for commenting here. That makes it harder for the ALA or the media to censor opposition to Banned Books Week, as they are currently doing, ironically.

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