Book-burning party—the risk of caging our children | Opinion | Salt Lake City Weekly

Book-burning party—the risk of caging our children 

Taking a Gander

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As the father of five grown children—and a grandfather to 15—I have a powerful empathy for every parent. It's not easy to be a good one, and it can be frightening when children, even after a healthy childhood and adolescence, fledge and fly away.

That's something all parents both rejoice in and dread. We can only hold our breath and hope that our parenting puts them on a solid path toward happy and fulfilling lives.

If parenthood could be characterized by one word, that word would be "protection." We're vigilant in removing hazards from their nurseries, fight like mama bears when our children are threatened, taste their food to make sure it's not too hot, strive to keep them away from people we deem to be threats, and watch for any mood swings that might signal trouble.

With protection of children in mind, here's my urgent plea to all parents: It's time to shift your view on the value of education. Education may be the greatest threat to your children's welfare. Particularly troubling is the matter of literacy—something that, if mastered, will surely deliver your children's tender souls to the devil.

Hopefully you understand that I'm not being serious—but tell that to our lawmakers who seem, collectively, to believe that it's best to just keep children in the dark.

As people supposedly committed to the creation of intelligent, practical laws, we elect legislators to represent ours and our children's interests. One of the most vigilant is Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who sponsored, spearheaded and successfully won support for a 2022 law that banned school libraries from offering books deemed to contain material that is "indecent or pornographic."

It's only a guess, but Mr. Ivory may well have been fascinated by the bare-breasted Africans in his parents' issues of National Geographic and, just perhaps, he might even have a copy of the latest Playboy in his desk drawer. That would certainly help explain his preoccupation in saving the children from the dangers of discovery—particularly the glimpses of sex and bodies, those things that only naughty presidents and clergy can do, with more-or-less impunity.

On its face, Ivory's law was just another good move to protect Utah's children. And were its terms not subject to individual interpretations by people with their own beliefs and agendas, that would be fine. The flip side is that much of our literature is a mix, containing things that are both uplifting and inspiring and those things that may be potentially troubling to the growing mind.

The reality is that the courts have struggled for years on just what constitutes "pornographic" and "indecent," generally using standards of "redeeming social value" as the catch-all that gives a publication literary legitimacy.

But Ivory's law threatens the freedoms of all Utahns—a sort of gateway drug to unfettered censorship. It allows parents to submit any "questionable" titles to school districts for review and charges a small panel with making the determinations of what should—or should not—be included in a school library. It opens up an opportunity for legitimate literature to be disposed of on the basis of fanaticism, ignorance and stupidity.

What seemed at first to be sensible could easily transition into a free-for-all, allowing wholesale condemnation of many fine books. Once again, we're faced with the problem of whether a few people should be making the rules for all of us.

"Pornographic" and "indecent" don't mean the same thing to everyone, so there will always be—as long as there are protective parents—a few extremists who, while focusing on minutia, miss the value of literary and artistic treasures. Let's face it, we have nut-jobs who really would like to see Michelangelo's David castrated by a capable sculptor.

Rep. Ivory was back at it this year, running new bills to ban seemingly any book with sexual content. And you can bet your boots he'll be back again in 2024, following his personal, puritanical agenda.

Suddenly there are parents complaining about a wide range of books, and the book-burning has begun. An unnamed parent has also petitioned a school board to remove the Bible from the school library. Most Utahns see that as a hoax, or at least a political statement. And yet, the Bible is full of some of the most prurient, disgusting, violent, adulterous and barbaric accounts of humanity.

I don't at all see the submission of the Bible for review as a joke. If we're to follow Rep. Ivory's standard, the Bible certainly doesn't belong in any school library—and certainly not in anyone's home. That goes for most other so-called scriptures for a variety of religions. Cases, in point: the Bhagavad-Gita, a holy Hindu scripture, is full of sex; and the Book of Mormon, claimed as LDS scripture, endorses murder for the recovery of a genealogical record.

No child should read them, and they definitely fall into the category of questionable literature. Furthermore, if you're a Rep. Ivory fan it goes without saying: Children should not be allowed to see a newspaper, watch TV or surf the net. If they're given those freedoms, you're contributing to the worst possible outcome—children who are literate, educated and capable of making at least some of the choices in achieving their understanding of life and our world.

Scary? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely. Children need to be protected—not caged.

The author is a retired novelist, columnist and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.

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