Before we get into the claim, I’d like to mention that this article will include mention of sex and use sex-related words that some parents may not want to expose their children to. If you have young children nearby, you may want to come back and read this later. If you are viewing this on a device you share with young children, you may wish to delete it from your browser history to avoid them inadvertently coming across it.
Also, please note that the ‘Carmel Clay Books: A Study of Explicit Library Materials’ page on the Brake, Brown and Sharp campaign website contains no such warning, but includes what most people would consider to be significantly more graphic language than what you’ll encounter here. If this article leads you to visit their site, I would offer an even stronger version of the above recommendations.
That media centers at CCS schools need to ban more books. The BBS campaign dedicated a section of their Current in Carmel advertorial to explaining the broad categories of books they would work to ban from the media centers if elected. They also have a page on their website that provides what appear to specific examples of the type of sexual content they feel should qualify a book to be banned.
Some of this response will be more opinion-based than my other pages, but let’s start with some facts.
The media centers at CCS schools already select content based on what is age appropriate for the students they serve.
The entire libraries of each media center can be searched for specific titles by visiting this page.
Parents can view online which books their children have checked out from the libraries.
Parents are provided with the contact information for their school’s media specialist and can contact them if they feel an age-inappropriate book has been mistakenly included in the library.
Parents can also contact their school’s media specialist to request that their children not be allowed to borrow specific books.
While we’re on facts, I’d like to point out another instance where I believe that the BBS campaign is either misrepresenting or demonstrating its lack of understanding of Indiana state law. On their website, they claim that by including a book about puberty, sex and sexual health in their libraries, the media centers at CCS middle schools violated state laws on sex ed curriculum. (For a recap on those laws, please see the ‘Sexualization of Children’ page.)
What a teacher covers in the classroom is considered to be part of the curriculum. Books offered by a schoolwide library are not. This is, for example, why a school library can include books promoting a specific religion, but a teacher cannot promote a specific religion to their students.
Side note: Upon review by CCS, the book in question was determined to be age-inappropriate and removed from the middle schools. Its original accidental inclusion was not a violation of state law.
Let’s Talk About Sex
I haven’t read any of the books that the BBS campaign website singles out for banning, and I unfortunately don’t have time to read them for this article. To be as informed as possible, I’ve reviewed the excerpts provided by the BBS campaign, and looked up corresponding plot summaries sourced from Wikipedia, Goodreads, Amazon and reviews.
As far as I can tell, all of the material that they list as finding too objectionable for high school students is related to sex. Sometimes profanity is used, sometimes it isn’t. There are descriptions of nudity. There are descriptions of consensual sex between adults and consensual sex between teenagers. There are descriptions of teenagers joking about sex and/or masturbation. There are two memoirs that include the authors’ accounts of surviving sexual abuse. From what I can tell, I don’t believe sexual topics are driving the narrative in any of these books, but are merely tangential to the stories of their fictional or non-fictional characters.
Before we go further, let’s take a look at what topics the BBS campaign compares to books mentioning sex:
Promotion of anti-Semitism
Promotion of racism
Promotion of white supremacy
Instruction on how to build bombs
Promotion of pedophilia
Instruction on how to commit suicide
I think that even parents who are opposed to their teenagers reading anything about sex would generally find those comparisons to be insane. Personally, I would not trust anyone making such comparisons to be in any position to determine whether a book is suitable for any age of child.
Moving past the craziness of thinking that kids reading an account of consensual sex is akin to teaching them to hate Jewish people or how to become terrorists, there is a legitimate question of whether teenagers should have access to materials that present descriptions of sexual activity. That’s a legitimate question and one that regular, loving parents may come to very different positions on.
Personally, I come down on the side of yes. Sex is a normal (and essential) facet of human existence. Regardless of whether someone personally considers sex to be a sacred act, casual pleasure or something in-between, I think it’s important that they understand that there are other people who view it very, very differently. If we’re expecting high school graduates to emerge ready to join the real world, they need to have some knowledge of the breadth of diverse beliefs and behaviors in our society, including the varied ways people view, approach and engage in sex.
I realize other parents may disagree and not want their high school students to have access to materials that allow frank discussion of the topic. I respect that choice and am glad that CCS provides tools that make it easy for them to monitor and control what their teenagers are reading.
The Can of Worms
It’s one thing to limit reading material for elementary and middle school children, as at those ages they’re still being introduced to a host of topics, and different children mature and progress at different rates. While there’s a need for parental involvement and engagement between parents and the schools to work out the details, I think nearly all parents understand and wholeheartedly endorse limiting the topics and materials available to younger children. But once we start talking about teenagers in high school, the topic becomes much, much murkier.
For my entire life, I have loved books, in particular, novels, novellas and short stories. So when someone says they want to ban books, my mind goes to all the compelling, insightful and/or entertaining stories they’ll be taking away. I’m not usually a fan of slippery slope arguments, but I believe it applies in this instance.
First of all, if we’re banning books because they depict sex, a huge number of works by our culture’s most-read authors are wiped out. Off the top of my head, we’d have to remove many, many books by authors like Stephen King, James Patterson, Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, etc.
Next, we also have to get rid of huge swaths of contemporary literary fiction, as well as many of the classics.
Also, will we limit bans to books that use contemporary language, or will we also ban works with talk of sex that’s buried in turns of phrase we no longer use? If the latter, we’re losing some Shakespeare.
We could keep going, and that’s just for sex talk. Surely we would need to ban some books for violence as well? If our teenagers will be damaged by reading about someone masturbating, I shudder to think what descriptions of torture, murder or war would do to them.
If we eventually expand out to areas that any significantly sized group of parents might find objectionable, we’re very quickly going to arrive at the point where the libraries are so selectively edited that they may as well not exist.
I spent some time perusing the libraries of some of our schools and want to call out one book in particular that appears to be available at all three CCS middle schools and the high school. It includes quite a bit of content that I think many parents would find objectionable. I’m not going to be comprehensive, but to mention some specific examples, it contains:
Multiple instances of men, with their wives’ approval, having sex with their slaves
Two sisters getting their father drunk and having sex with him
A woman posing as a prostitute to get her father-in-law to have sex with her
A man who wants to avoid getting his sexual partner pregnant pulling out and ejaculating onto the ground
A group of strangers trying to rape a man, who in turn gives them his mistress to rape and murder instead
Discussion and condemnation of women having sex while menstruating
Description of a society in which the supposedly just punishment for the rape of an unengaged virgin is for the rapist to pay money to her family and marry her
A long metaphor comparing a nation to a prostitute and describing various sex acts, including having sex with men with penises like donkeys and ejaculations like horses
To be 100% clear, I am not advocating that we ban the Bible from being available in CCS school libraries. But given the BBS campaign’s stance on books with sexual content, it surely seems like that’s the stance they would have to take to maintain any level of objective consistency.