The First Amendment makes it quite clear that there shall be no abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. As a writer and a future journalist, I believe in those freedoms. So when parents and librarians try to ban a book based on its content, I get irritated because the First Amendment is being totally disregarded.
People are outraged about a book called The Higher Power of Lucky, which has the word “scrotum” on its first page. Librarians and bookstores all over the country are pledging to ban the book from elementary schools – a fact that’s causing people to reevaluate what is considered “appropriate” in children’s literature.
The main character in the book, Lucky, hears the word through her fence from another character who is telling a story about how his dog was bitten on the scrotum by a rattlesnake. The book goes on to describe Lucky’s feelings by saying, “Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much. It sounded medical and secret, but also important.”
Some are questioning what responsibility librarians should have when it comes to picking or censoring literature for children. The book has already been banned from school libraries in several states in the South, West and Northeast, and librarians in other parts of the country are saying that they may follow suit.
Unfortunately, this is a case in which librarians are not seeing how the word is being used, and the whole situation is being blown out of proportion. Librarians and parents are seeing a word they have deemed “inappropriate” and are taking it into their own hands to censor people. But it’s not a librarian’s job to protect children from books they don’t like. If a child wants to read The Higher Power of Lucky and his or her parents are fine with it, then that child should have every right to pick up the book at the local library. If a parent is paranoid about what their child might learn, then it is their job to watch what his or her children are exposed to. However, in this case there is nothing offensive about the book or how the word is used.
The word is used to illustrate a point. One of the themes of the book is the preparation for adulthood by the main character; therefore, learning about body parts and words is important to her. If the word was being used in a sexual or grotesque manner, then the upset would be more understandable, but it is still not the job of a librarian to decide what children will read.
In addition, the book is being targeted toward children between the ages of 9 and 12. That age range is fitting because children of those ages should be educated about their bodies and the proper terms for their body parts. There comes a time when children should stop saying, “wee-wee” and “who-ha” and start using the proper terms. Eventually, children have to learn these things, and there’s no telling when a child is “ready” to know something. Children mature differently, so really, only a parent can determine if their child is ready to read a particular book.
The big problem, though, is that many parents are uncomfortable discussing reproductive parts with their child, regardless of his or her age, be it 9, 12 or even 18. Some parents would rather pretend that their child does not need to find out about things like that. However, it would be better for parents to talk to their children and give them the correct information, than wait for them to learn that sort of information from a classmate or friend who gives them all the wrong advice.
The debate on censorship has been going on forever, and this book dispute is just another example of how people feel the need to control what others learn – especially others who don’t have a voice. The First Amendment secured people’s right to have freedom of speech and of the press. Unfortunately, people want to add their own personal clause that says, “as long as whatever is said or printed doesn’t offend me.”
Shemir Wiles is a senior majoring in mass communications.