Libraries have raised many children, feeding them books. Library books are free and bring freedom from our status quo. Unlike universities you have to pay for, most of us have access to a library and opportunities to develop our independence from the pack mentality. Libraries are hosts to memories and stories of past cultures. They are the best thing a community can offer to build reason and independent thinking.
It’s not difficult to understand why politicians aiming to control people’s thinking attack books. Views that contradict their message undermine their hold on the voters. Progress is resisted by those who feel threatened by it. It’s what Michigan’s Senator Mallory McMorrow’s recent viral moment was about. “Hate wins when people like me stand by and let it happen. I won’t.” Citizens unwilling to read are easily misled.
Throughout human history, aggressors have moved quickly to ban and destroy books while telling nonreaders that the ideas in those books threaten their way of life. It was the case in 213 BC when the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered that all philosophical work contradicting his ideas be burned along with hundreds of scholars.
Before Hitler’s war began, his assault on books had already started. In 1933, a book-burning event, Feuerspruche, took place in university towns around Germany. Students threw thousands of books, especially by Jewish writers on a wide range of democratic values, into fires. Instead of reading the books and deciding for themselves, they believed the lies that Jews were responsible for all society’s ills.
Today in Germany, students learn about the past not because they are responsible for the sins of previous generations but to prevent this history from repeating. The students also visit concentration camps and museums. Germans don’t shy away from their monstrous history. Yet, their children aren’t damaged. They are strengthened and humbled. The US needs to do the same regarding slavery.
In the United States, politicians are appealing to the outliers, people with outdated views, by banning books they claim will hurt children. This time, let’s starve them of the oxygen to keep it going. We know that the light of humanity burns brightest in love and awareness. Hate snubs out the flame, leaving us in a spiritual desert.
My granddaughter, 12-year-old Edith, asked me to read the book Eleven so that we could discuss it. The author weaves a tale of an 11-year-old Alex, a dog, and the Twin Towers. Edith learned about 9/11, and gained an understanding of the world and empathy for families left behind after wars and disasters. Discussing (via email) the book, she wrote, “I really want my mom to read it.” Isn’t that what we all want when we read a good book, that it may light up your world to see what is?
Books we may find objectionable may have educational value. The decision of what children read in school is best left to teachers who have the children’s well-being at the forefront. A teacher guides discussions based on children’s maturity. Books children read in hiding from parents or hear about from friends can lead to anxiety and misunderstandings. I still remember page 92 in my health book that explained human reproduction. We would have benefited from a more open format that allowed questions.
Religious groups challenged the Harry Potter books because of witchcraft. But a study concluded that J.K. Rowling’s series improved children’s attitudes toward immigrants, homosexuals, and refugees, and the children were not negatively affected by reading about witchcraft.
Books are portals to different experiences. Learning about people and events makes us more open and creative. Teaching sixth grade, I saw firsthand how the books I read to my students, The Giver, Hatchet, and Island of the Blue Dolphins, deepened their empathy and spurred their social-emotional development.
A reader is the master of her destiny. With books as companions, you are never alone. You can live unlimited lives through different characters. The Great White sharks have to keep swimming to stay alive; humanity must read to keep growing.
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”Edith Wharton