Did you know it’s Banned Books week? I did, and I’ve spent some time reflecting on the whole notion of banning books….and blogs….and wikis…and Ning….and a whole slew of other things in schools this week….in the name of protecting children.

It’s interesting what we ban and what it is we allow, isn’t it?

Our notions of what it means to protect others….our understanding of what is truly threatening in this world…it’s all very muddy, isn’t it?

A few different things have been rattling around in my mind during this Banned Books week. I hadn’t intended to blog much about any of them. Time is tight, and I’m not often one to rant within this space. It may not be the proper forum, after all. I also know that ranting tends to do little good.

But tonight, it might make feel better, and that’s good enough for me.

Here is what I know:

I know that 1 in 4 girls in this country are sexually abused before they reach their eighteenth birthday. I know that 1 in 6 boys are as well.
Isn’t it disturbing, what we allow?

I often wonder how many of the over 2000 children I’ve taught have lived with the consequences of that? How many of my friends? How many of yours?

The silence around this, particularly in the field of education, is something that has always concerned me. Isn’t it disturbing, what we allow?

This is an ugly topic, I know. I don’t think that this is necessarily why we don’t speak of it, though. I think it’s possible that too many of us have too much to say and none of those stories are the ones we want to keep at the forefront of our minds. We ban them from our own thoughts. We change the subject when others bring it up. We have happier work to do and far easier battles to fight against far less threatening demons, after all. These are the problems we will recognize. They are the issues we will ALLOW on the table.

Many of these problems are real. Far too many of them imagined. I would guess that engaging in mythical battles allows us to construct all sorts of impressive armor. Too bad it isn’t the kind that serves anyone very well. All of this effort might fulfill our desire to feel competent at protecting those we care about, but when all is said and done, is it any more than a bunch of distraction that diverts our energies away from our real work?

I could share a thousand examples of where I’ve witnessed this theory in action. For example: school districts are often more concerned about potential online predatory behaviors than they seem to be about the very real traumas that are silently scarring students in every building across this country every single day. I’ve watched districts invest more time and money in maintaining their fancy filters and BANNING the use of essential technologies than they’ve invested in checking out the photographers they’ve ALLOWED into their buildings to capture and then keep the digital images of every child in their buildings. Isn’t this disturbing?

Sometimes, I think we’ve lost our minds. Case in point:

I understand Samantha Geimer’s need to maintain her privacy. She’s a dramatic example of why victims don’t often tell their stories. I wish she wouldn’t dismiss Polanski’s behavior, though. She may have recovered, but so many others haven’t. Survivors need to bear witness to these crimes in order to honor their own truth. There’s more though, I think. Whenever we dismiss, defend, or protect those who victimize others, we perpetuate a world that ALLOWS these acts. We become a bigger part of the problem. I’m pretty sure Alice Walker would endorse that perspective.

I wonder if Whoopi remembers her. Ironically, The Color Purple is #17 on this ALA List of the Top 100 Most Challenged Books. But you can watch Whoopi defend Roman Polanski any old time you would like. Isn’t it disturbing…what we ban…and what we allow?



  1. That is a powerful juxtaposition. I’d love to work up some comparison stats between real life safety and internet safety. Alfie Kohn has some interesting thoughts that parallel this idea of misguided perceptions and subsequently misguided responses.

    I think you’re dead on but I find the stats to be somewhat misleading.

    If you look at what’s going on with the respondents from the data source around 65% are over 50 (almost 50% are over 60) so they’re reporting on abuse statistics from an entirely different generation despite the fact that the survey was given in the mid 1990s.

    This doesn’t necessarily make anything true or not true, it’s just interesting to see how stats are slanted in different ways.

    Ever since I read this series of books I feel compelled to dig into the source of stats if possible and see for myself.

    So after all that, thanks for an interesting post that made me think more and learn a few things.

    • You’re right Tom–the statistics around this can be misleading. If you take a peek at other resources online, including incidents reported in more recent years–the sad fact is that very little has changed. Another interesting point–there are those who suggest that the incidents of abuse are actually much higher, since data is only taken from those who are willing to report. Children are often unable to do so. In fact, many cannot even name the experience and often dissociate from the trauma that occurs. What happened isn’t fully understand until much later. I’m a pretty firm believer in the fact that data is rarely complete–which is why it’s so important to look at a lot of different pieces before we draw conclusions, and it’s the conversation and learning that takes place around data that helps us develop good hunches. I have some pretty good hunches about the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse based upon far more than that quick citation—and the greater point of this piece, I suppose, has very little to do with that specific data at all. Even if one child in our world has been subjected to this, it’s important that the adults in our world–particularly those who have power–respond appropriately. It seems that every time this topic is on the table, greater effort is made to defend those who perpetuate these crimes, dismiss their actions, or question the legitimacy of the claims. We are, as a nation, unwilling to look at this closely or act on behalf of kids first. We tend to pursue our inclinations to disprove and discredit survivors first.

  2. Pingback: Fighting mythical battles « Otter of Fate

  3. I don’t understand our society at all, never have.

    My first school was alternative and many of the kids had been sexually and physically abused. It still bothers me we didn’t do a better job trying to help them. No counseling, nothing. Tutoring if they were near passing the state test, but no help in so many key areas.

  4. kristin smith Reply

    Isn’t it interesting that we will ban books that we deem to have topics of controversy, but will allow our children to play video games that horrifically depict the glory of guns, shooting, bombing and toturous deaths?

    Isn’t it interesting that books are banned with controversial topics, but our children have access to explicit media on tv, music, video, not to mention sexting via cell phone?

    Give me a controversial, banned book anyday ….

  5. I never considered that before, Kristin. I tend to think that our desire to ban access to certain things is grounded in good enough intentions–I just don’t know that it accomplishes much. I also wonder if we tend to make assumptions about things “in general” based upon less frequent incidents. I’m thinking of the “sexting” scare in particular. I wonder how much that happens, and I also wonder if resolving the problem has to do with something different or something more than banning cell phone use. Don’t get me wrong–when I’m engaged in any kind of collaborative learning experience, I am sure to shut my phone off. I’d expect the same from kids. I guess I just struggle with the whole idea of taking them away altogether–I’ve seen examples of great learning that can happen when kids have access to them. Sticky issues, I guess.

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