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EDITORIAL: Book removal is never progress in education

The Land, by Mildred Taylor, joined the company of many esteemed novels when it was removed from the library of Turner Elementary School in Hillsborough County.

The book, which is set in the South during the Civil War, was removed after being challenged by the parent of an 11-year-old student who found the “N-word” in it.

“The subject matter of The Land is above the maturity level of elementary students at Turner. Several factors influenced this decision including sexual overtones, brutality/violence, and racial slurs,” a committee of parents, teachers and administrators decided, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Unfortunately, they are overlooking what the book provides and focusing on what they believe to be its negative aspects. Novels often provide critical insight to human motivations and experiences, and the unsettling issues they approach should create a gateway toward education and understanding.

A number of books on the American Library Association’s list of the most challenged books during the ’90s are also some of the most important works of American literature. Among others, the list includes Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

The ALA also lists many more books that have most likely landed on reading lists but have been decried by the public for their realistic representation of the human experience.

People who oppose such novels might believe they are protecting society, but in reality they are prohibiting intellectual growth by subjecting the population to revisionist histories. Simply removing the controversial aspects of America’s history doesn’t magically make the world a better place, and as the cliché goes, those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

In addition, these books may not be too much for children to handle as it is. An 11-year-old likely has access to music and films that portray similar subject matters. Also, books such as The Color Purple address issues that many children might be subjected to within a home environment. Some children are molested and abused. Some are victims of racism at the hands of students and adults. Books addressing these subjects could provide the best outlet for children to understand that there are others who have had to face similar circumstances.

The Land – and other works containing a serious subject matter – should have created a coherent and competent dialogue between child and parent and between student and teacher about the use of the “N-word” and racism.

Instead, it was handled with fear and outrage, and unfortunately the victim will ultimately be the child who is kept hidden from the sometimes harsh realities of the world until forced to deal with them on his or her own.