Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Censors Lose a Round

I see where the Georgia Board of Education has decided that Harry Potter is legal for the kids of their state. This, after a woman named Laura Mallory has spent at least a year trying to oust the boy wizard from the state’s public school libraries on the theory that J. K. Rowling’s wildly popular books are “mainstreaming witchcraft in a subtle and deceptive manner, in a children-friendly format.”


It occurs to me that some adults in this country have much more trouble telling the difference between fantasy and reality than do most children. But Ms. Mallory’s witchcraft delusions don’t worry me nearly as much as do other statements she has made. In arguing that the books are not suitable for children, she was quoted as saying that the books are full of “murder, greed, and violence. Why do they have to read them in school?”

Excuse me while I roll my eyes.

Okay. I’m back. I’d be interested in how Ms. Mallory feels about children reading the Bible, which contains a bumper crop of all three. Let’s see. Murder first appears in the fourth chapter of Genesis. That’s six pages in, in the Bible translation I have on my shelf. Now, granted I’ve only read the first couple of Harry Potter novels, but neither one of those have a murder six pages in, as far as I can recall. Greed plays its part before Genesis is over as well, and violence is fairly common all through the Good Book.

But let’s lay that aside. I’m assuming that Ms. Mallory is Christian when the article I read does not give any evidence of that. There are still other questions that are more intimately related to the school curriculum in light of her assessment: which subjects are the schools going to have to omit if there is to be no mention of murder, greed or violence in our national schoolrooms?

History would definitely be out. All those wars, you know, not to mention palace intrigue and other historical activities. Lots of violence there. Greed, too, when you stop to think about it. Economics would be eliminated simply on the greed factor. Couldn’t teach literature, either. Honestly, how many works of fiction can you think of that don’t have any violence at all, either physical or otherwise? Murder? You bet. Lots of greed in some literature, as well. The schools couldn’t teach anything about current events, as under Ms. Mallory’s theory there would be no place for the daily newspaper in school libraries, either. What about civics, aka government? Right. Gotta get rid of that, too, or at least severely restrict what is taught. The arts? Have to be very careful there, too. Math and science might make the cut, but I’m not even sure about that.

I’d be interested in knowing if Ms. Mallory shields her own children from the evening news on television; from newsstands displaying the day’s headlines; from, well, the whole world.

Now, I’m not going to argue for making kids grow up any faster than necessary. In fact, I’m a firm believer in letting kids be kids for as long as they can be. Goodness knows, that is a precious short time as it is these days. On the other hand, I also believe it is a mistake to overprotect children from the realities of the world or to give them a mistakenly benign view of how the world works. It’s a very fine line to walk, and all too easy to step off to one side or the other. But letting kids think that the world is a nice, sweet, safe place where no one will ever be mean or try to hurt them is doing them just as much a disservice as turning them into little miniature adults with all the cares and worries that implies before it is necessary.

Keeping kids from reading harmless fantasy like that found in Harry Potter is, I think, probably a good way to ease them into a knowledge of the reality that there are bad people as well as good in the world and that not everything turns out right in the end all the time, all without unduly traumatizing them.

As far as I can see, people like Ms. Mallory are much more of a hazard to children than J. K. Rowling and the books that she writes.

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