This is the final post series on banned and challenged books marking the American Library Association’s (ALA) Banned Books Week 2011.
In 2010 Canadian publisher Kids Can Press published a book by Daniel Loxton called Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be. The book, aimed at eight- to thirteen-year-olds, sold well and won the Lane Anderson Award for best science book for young readers.
Three out of five Americans believe in evolution*. Sixty per cent. I’d be willing to wager that a large number of those Americans are involved with the raising of children. That’s a pretty huge potential market.
Loxton offered his book to a number US publishers. It was turned down. The reason given? The book is ‘too controversial‘.
Few people truly believe that society does not have a legitimate responsibility to protect the welfare of its youngsters, and restricting available literature is just one way this is achieved**. Denying children access to a non-fiction book based in proven scientific fact in favour of a Christian story based on other people’s creation myths, and a bit of wishful thinking is not in the best interests of our children. It’s a pretty story, but protects no ones welfare, not even that of the Church.
There are two fears at play here: the first, from prospective publishers, that the religious right will kick up a fuss about Evolution, and the second (which feeds the first) from Creationists, that children may reject Creationism after reading about natural selection.
The first fear – fear of backlash – is a wholly reasonable fear. It’s a sad, sad situation. Releasing a controversial book, be it memoir as in the case of Melvin Burgess, a book critical of religion, or a novel might open a publisher up to bad press at best and protracted legal battles at worst.
The second problem is more complex, and difficult to discuss without sweeping generalisations of the kind of individuals that make up the religious, and particularly the Christian, right. According to the font of all knowledge that is Wikipedia, the Christian Right comprises around 15% of the American electorate. It is they who promote the teaching of Creationism and Intelligent Design in schools as an equally valid theory to evolution, and it is they who would rage against the publication of a book like Loxton’s. It is done, as censorship so often is, in the name of the children.
Social fears lead to calls for censorship; child protection emerges as the most powerful argument for restrictions; direct harm to the young is assumed but never proven, yet the fear of harm to minors is sufficient to spur action. The culmination of this process is censorship in the name of children.
Such censorship is for the benefit of children in name only. Like tobacco companies, religions have a vested interest in ‘getting them while they’re young’; without new blood they may die off, and a child’s mind is ripe for indoctrination. Children often accept without question what their parents tell them, for why would they lie?
I am not suggesting that every believer in Creationism would demand that a book like Evolution be pulled from library and bookshop shelves. Indeed, I’m inclined to believe that most Creationists would be unmoved by the book’s publication. Those that would, though, are a very vocal minority. A minority that seeks to dictate what all of our children are exposed to.
But why is this minority so vociferous?
Childrens’ literature is a potentially a very powerful influence on society, and the right recognises this***. Furthermore, “Evangelicals,” says PublicEye.org, “who are politically or socially active, especially conservatives, seem to be increasingly upwardly mobile, suburban, highly educated, and with above-average incomes.” They can afford, financially and temporally, to fight battles against irreligion, and they do. And why ought they not? The Bible repeatedly tells Christians to preach:
And Moses said unto the LORD, O my LORD, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.
It is preposterous that publishers should feel pressure to leave certain works unpublished for fear of the recriminations of a small minority, but it is the price we pay for intellectual freedom. All of us, irrespective of political views, use literature to teach our children; it is only in those who do not share our views we call it indoctrination.
Or, as one of the great philosophers of our time put it;
Kids are the best, Apu. You can teach them to hate the things you hate.
I can’t really sum it up better than that.
*A 2010 study revealed that forty per cent of Americans are adherents to strict Creationism, the abracadabra belief that a god magicked the world and its contents – including people – fully formed into existence. Thirty-eight per cent believe that evolution occurred, but that it was guided by a god, like a celestial stage-mother determined to give humans all the opportunities that He, what with being non-corporeal, never had.
** Whether there any benefits to this (and I believe absolutely that there are not) is a separate question, and one for exploration of which I recommend the deliciously partisan Not In Front of the Children, “Indecency”, Censorship and the Innocence of Youth by Marjorie Heins.
***This is not to say the left has not come to the same realisation.