Education

Censors Increasingly Attacking ‘Realistic’ Books, Author Says

By Anne Bridgman — September 19, 1984 3 min read
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A popular author of books for young people charged last week that the problem of censorship in American society is growing more serious.

It makes authors fearful of writing “realistic” books for the young, said Norma Klein, who noted that she had experienced attempts to suppress a number of her 40 novels for young adults.

Ms. Klein and a panel that included students, a teacher, and a librarian, spoke at a Banned Books Week luncheon sponsored by the May Group, an informal network of organizations concerned about censorship in public schools and libraries.

The May Group was formed by People for the American Way, a civil-liberties group founded by the television producer Norman Lear. Banned Books Week is an annual event sponsored by the American Library Association to call attention to censorship issues.

“Since the election of Reagan and the organized efforts of the Moral Majority, children’s books that deal frankly with controversial material are having more and more difficulty being stocked by libraries,” said Ms. Klein. “Censorship ... can hurt most by creating an atmosphere of fear for the most courageous.”

If books are suppressed by conservative interests, Ms. Klein contended, “we will have no books that kids want to read. This is what has always struck me as the greatest irony. Books that deal openly with many of these controversial issues are the ones kids love the most.”

Ms. Klein admitted “with regret” that she has agreed to editors’ suggestions to change potentially controversial passages of her books. In one instance, she said, she changed the race of a black character to white because he had a relationship with a white girl.

‘Erasing the Past’

“To me, censorship is ridiculous and degrading,” said Brooke Marcus, a senior at Herndon High School in Reston, Va., who spoke on the panel. “Perhaps the most frightening part of censorship is that censors want to erase the past and control the future.”

Ms. Marcus explained that her high-school history textbook contains only three sentences and one picture dealing with the Holocaust. “If we aren’t allowed to read and learn all we can about [these incidents], how can we change them?

“No one wants to see the Holocaust repeated, yet books like The Diary of Anne Frank, which tells from a young girl’s viewpoint what it was like to be a Jew, is banned from school libraries.”

Added Kirsten Berg, a senior at South Lakes High School in Reston, Va.: “If you send children out into the world without the facts, they’re going to have problems.”

‘Self-Censorship’

Patrick Welsh, an English teacher at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., said that although he has not experienced problems with censorship in his school, there is a degree of “self-censorship” among teachers.

“Teachers have to be free to choose what they want to teach,” Mr. Welsh said, “but there is a matter of discretion. Teachers, depending on their own personality, cannot teach everything. There are certain things that certain teachers cannot teach and certain things that other teachers can,” he said.

But Mr. Welsh also said parents have a right to complain about and to “censor” what their children are reading.

“There are a lot of imprudent teachers ... and they’re hard to get rid of,” he said. “If a parent doesn’t want a certain book read, I, as an English teacher, would have an obligation to find an alternative work for that child.”

Power of Books

“I’ve been able to see what books can do for young people,” said Charles Hicks, a librarian with the District of Columbia public-library system, “the power they can offer them, the hope to grow, to dream, to move themselves out of one environment. [Books] let us experience things we might never experience in another way except by reading. And that’s why I don’t support censorship.”

Mr. Hicks also noted that the District of Columbia City Council is expected to pass a “privacy-of-the-patron” law that will prohibit outside access to lists of books that have been checked out of a library by an individual.

This action is a response to a number of cases in which parents have asked librarians for lists of the books their children have checked out, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the September 19, 1984 edition of Education Week as Censors Increasingly Attacking ‘Realistic’ Books, Author Says

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