We should celebrate the freedom to read

Great books contain thought-provoking ideas. It’s the marriage of big ideas and wonderful writing that separates literature from pablum. Florid prose will only take an author so far.

Because great books are by their very nature provocative, they can be controversial. Every year censorship issues arise somewhere in America when schools — attempting to leverage the inherent teaching power of literature — assign books that some people find objectionable.

Such is the case here. One mother’s objection to “Ender’s Game” in District 51 sixth-grade language arts classes has led to the formation of a special committee to review whether the book is suitable for young readers.

We don’t question the mother’s sincerity in expressing concern. She read “Ender’s Game” before complaining to district officials. But we are troubled by her logic. She is asserting that because she doesn’t want her 11-year-old to read it, then no one else’s sixth-grader should either. Presumptuous to say the least.

That’s a bit of an insult to the capable and caring teaching professionals who put the sixth-grade curriculum together. Not to mention the legions of parents who trust that the district wouldn’t have made a haphazard book selection.

The book review panel will consist of three teachers, two parents, three community members and a principal. The panel will read the book, review public perceptions of the book, and weigh its educational merits and compatability with district curriculum philosophy.

Our hope is that the panel quickly concludes that “Ender’s Game” belongs in our schools. If it doesn’t, it will mean there was a serious breakdown in the curriculum planning process. It could also herald a lowest-common-denominator approach to selecting books, which we oppose.

Nearly everyone can identify a book that had a profound influence on how they think. Whether a book is polarizing or morally ambiguous, it challenges the reader to accept or reject an author’s intellectual premise — the “big idea” that anchors a thematic exploration of its subject matter. The best books alter our perception of the world or help us see things in a new light — almost subliminally if the writing is captivating. We get lost in a great story and learn something about the human condition along the way.

Put another way, we might be just as concerned if the district wasn’t getting some kind of flak for the books it chooses. Controversy means the district isn’t shying away from books that lend themselves to a discussion of values.

“Slaughterhouse-Five,” “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” and “The Color Purple” are just a few titles that have been similarly targeted across the country over the years. What they have in common with “Ender’s Game” is that they are all award winners.


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Well said. Thank you.

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