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As I See It: Censoship and bullying

I get a lot of ideas for these columns from the news. That’s probably no surprise since news has become a 24-hour, 365-day media business that must rake in billions of bucks for a number of owners.

However, some of the best subjects still come from the local news since they often reflect and are related to larger national events or trends.

A recent article in a local paper discussed the efforts by the parents of a student who, as I understand it, petitioned the school board to have the John Steinbeck novel, “Of Mice and Men,” removed from a school’s mandatory reading list. As I recall, they objected to some of the language in the book and also perhaps felt their child was not old enough to understand or to be exposed to the content.

This novel is also on the American Library Association’s list of the 21st Century’s Most Challenged Books — mainly for its vulgarity and offensive and racist language. I have looked at this list of 100 books and I honestly don’t recognize too many. Most appear to be newer while those few I recognized were around when I was in high school.

First, I want to state that it is heartening that some parents are actually concerned about the content of their children’s curriculum enough to make it an issue when they feel something is not appropriate. Parents far too often don’t seem to care what their children are learning and just can’t be bothered to show much of an interest in education except when their little darlings earn a poor grade. Unfortunately, their children’s performance in school may reflect their disinterest.

It is virtually impossible to raise a child and simultaneously shelter him or her from the more vulgar, salacious, profane, obscene and disgusting aspects of human behavior and society. However, removing books from a school’s reading list, especially books that are fairly accurate reflections of parts of our society at a time and the way it evolved, makes little sense if we are trying to turn children into adults who can exercise sound, logical judgment about nearly everything in their life.

We have far too many people in our society today who specialize in “knee jerk” reactions to anything with which they disagree, and their only solutions to these perceived or actual issues are to ban something or pass a law to make what they don’t like illegal.

This is both naïve and damaging to a healthy, vibrant society. That’s not to say that we should pretend issues don’t exist. We just need to find a more productive and intelligent way to deal with things.

I hate to use the term “teachable moment” to talk about this, but that exactly describes this point. When we notice things that we believe are unacceptable for ourselves or our children we should be able to explain what is offensive or inappropriate, why it is offensive and what the result is.

Oftentimes, children will not recognize or buy into the result issue. This is where judgment and maturity come in and this is how parents can be most effective in passing on solid values while teaching children how to make sound judgments.

Our society has a lot of problems with the way it handles freedom. The concept of self-restraint has almost become lost as succeeding generations try to break away from the values of previous generations. Isn’t it ironic that a society that has come to espouse personal privacy and freedom is also the greatest proponent of political correctness?

Political correctness is one of the highest forms of bullying. Censorship is another form. Government efforts to counteract bullying is another.

Here in good old Minnesota, our Legislature is working on a bill titled “The Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act.” According to T.A. Lebrun, a Minnesota reporter and English teacher, “The broad language states that ‘prohibited conduct’ includes discriminatory conduct based on a number of characteristics, including race, ethnicity, color, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, adding that ‘prohibited conduct need not be based on any particular characteristic defined’ but includes any ‘conduct that could be undesirable or offensive’ to another student.”

Now try to interpret that one if you can!

I don’t know what the final form of this bill will be, but I do know the current version is way off target and is certain to cause more problems for educators, schools and parents than it might ever solve.

I really don’t know how to differentiate between cry babies and those who are the victims of bullying. I was bullied in school. I learned I had several choices. I could cry about it; I could develop a thick skin; or I could fight back. I did cry some. I should have fought back, but I didn’t. So I lived with it.

My son was bullied, too. I told him he had the same choices. He took the same path I did. And so he got his bicycle severely damaged and a broken nose for his passivity. Somehow we both had the personal strength to overcome the humiliation and live beyond it.

We can pass all the laws we want, but we will never stop one person or organization from pushing someone or some others around.

Bullying is bullying, whether it is at the hands of a Chicago political thug, your friendly school board, the Legislature or the class bully. The bully counts on you making the same choice I did. The most effective response — and the most difficult — is to fight back, which might get your child tossed out of school, too ... another unfortunate irony.

So, what’s your choice?

Well, that’s the way I see it.