Censorship & Civic Engagement

Recently I witnessed a television clip of a Virginia mother berating her school board at a public meeting about the Toni Morrison novel “Beloved.” She claimed the novel gave her Senior High School son nightmares. I know from experience what High School Senior boys consume on the Internet and in video games, and I strongly doubt a book with printed words could cause nightmares. Watching the lady’s harangue on TV, I wonder whether she or her son actually read the book. This episode, other contentious school board meetings, and politicians who advocate banning books by Morrison prompted me to order Morrison’s ‘Beloved” and “Song of Solomon” from the library to read. 

Morrison’s books “Beloved” and “Song of Solomon” are major achievements of American literature, and she has won Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes for her works. I was impressed with her literary skills and her narrative of history. Her philosophy and message are that slavery and the Jim Crow era were evil and a blot on our country. These evils are graphically interwoven throughout the books. Every American should be informed of our tragic past and be aware of its influence on our present conditions. We should use our awareness of the past to make the future more just.

“Beloved” is a difficult book and I believe it should only be taught in senior honors classes. An exceptional teacher is needed to teach “Beloved.” Those teachers should possess not only exceptional classroom skills but a love of literature that is all-consuming. “Beloved” and “Song of “Solomon” should be available in all high school and public libraries. The subject matter is explicit and often violent but historically accurate. Many people who check out these books will not finish them, but even brief exposure might be meaningful.

Serving on a school board, a city council, or in a municipal office is a great honor and great responsibility. The good people who undertake these responsibilities deserve our thanks and respect. The disrespect and harassment that a vocal minority have inflicted on our public servants is inexcusable. Public meetings are places for thoughtful discussion and civil discourse. They are not places for disruptive behavior, rudeness, or death threats. If the current behavior continues, no one of ability or fair-mindedness will serve on public boards, and we all will suffer the loss. 

Parenting is a hard job and so is being a student or a citizen. Get involved. The future of our children and our country is at stake.