Jay Ambrose: The child abuse of some unbanned books

Parents are trying to get books banned in schools around the country, it’s frequently pointed out, and one thing you might do is shiver, think of what a horror book banning can be. The last thing we want is exceptional, mind-elevating ideas in nonfiction and the heart-expanding wonders of great, beautiful literature snatched from the young.

But I myself have also kept thinking how everything depends on the specific book, whether it is in fact something credible, worthy and suitable for the age of the readers, or maybe something vile, hideous in spirit or misleading in thought because of inadequate knowledge, logic and decency on the part of the writer.

Well, thank you Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, for showing that books far worse than anything I ever imagined have in fact been made available in some schools with the possibility of young people absorbing this mix of poisonous verbiage. Who know what the effects could be on their lives and attitudes?

This special lawmaker made his significant move by reading aloud a book passage at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at which participants were arguing that book bans in public schools limit literature and liberty. The bans may also limit such things as child abuse. One form of the abuse can be pornography, and what Kennedy taught me in a video of his reading is how some of what finds its way into schools can be downright sickening sex trash, as almost any parent hearing him would immediately know.

What he read included a novel’s details of a disgustingly portrayed sexual episode, the graphic equivalent of vomit. Yes, the book had been banned. It was in fact the most banned book in school libraries, something likely only if it was once rampant in school libraries.

Though it is not in the video, Kennedy also argued with an Illinois official about an Illinois law that in a legal sense is almost as repulsive as the passage he read. It says, hey, schools and public libraries, you want to ban a book because of parents complaining? Well, OK, try it, but listen, we big guys and gals at the state level will then come at you with defunding. Here’s an utterly, totally contemptible, totalitarian-style move that in effect says parents should pack their bags and move to some other state appreciating its citizenry.

Having said all of this, I must add that I think banning books in general is a war against free thought and democracy. Still, some of us have noticed that children are different from adults and need special protections. A current issue is a drive to smother young ones with information about homosexuality and gender and encourage those considered in need to change their sex. What I strongly agree with here is that children should be taught to respect human differences, including skin color, another topic of concern in this debate.

That brings me to the outrageous banning of one of America’s greatest novels, “Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain, one of America’s greatest writers. The book includes the n-word, causing huge numbers wanting to keep it from schools although the author, in illustrating the 19th century era, was far away from trying to signal inferiority.

Instead, the book has one of the most profound and moving, even downright tearful anti-racist passages in literature. Huckleberry Finn, after wrestling with himself, decides he would rather shove aside his own culture and go to hell than turn in an escaped slave who has been his dear comrade. This is more a high school book than a grade school book, and I highly recommend it.

Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].