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Challenged book sparks discussion in Las Cruces Public Schools

Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Courtesy photo.
Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.


Coalition of Conservatives in Action’s local chair, Juan Garcia, has requested removal from the Mayfield High library of a book, Jack of Hearts and other Parts. We’ll discuss this on radio September 13 with Juan, but here’s my gut reaction:

Book-banning happens when political or military power and intellectual or humanitarian weakness combine. Banning a book, whether the Bible, Lady Chatterley's Lover, or Ayn Rand’s nonsense, admits that in a free exchange of ideas, the book is dangerously persuasive.

Freedom is a compelling idea. Dictators ban books and movies and activists advocating freedom. Equality is so compelling that Rhodesia, South Africa, and southern U.S. states banned works urging it. Some would still ban To Kill a Mockingbird. Christianity, early on and again in Communist-ruled nations in the 20th Century, was a dangerous idea.

Our country’s bedrock principle is freedom of speech. In New Hampshire town halls or in cyberspace, we are confident enough to invite freedom of discussion. Ideas, religions, and theories, even some we loathe, should be free to contend in the intellectual marketplace.

Banning books states, loudly and clearly, “I’m afraid my views can’t hold up to open competition and examination.” Why else bother?

Jack was written, apparently, to reassure “queer” kids and spark discussion. (“Queer,” like “the N-word” was an epithet that folks now, like Blacks in my youth, turned around and embraced, as a way of saying, “We are who we are – Is Name-Calling is the Best You Can Do?”)

Our government says kids should be treated well, whatever their skin color, religion, gender, or ideas. That doesn’t always happen.

The banning can’t be for containing sex scenes. Jack is less explicit than many young adult books, and in the small excerpts I’ve read, the harsh, hurtful treatment of lovers might discourage kids from suffering such treatment, not attract them.

The banning is for fear of the idea that kids whose sexual preferences differ from the narrow Fundamentalist Christian box of only one male and one female, preferably married to each other, and perhaps preferably of similar skin shades and limiting their activities to the missionary position. It’s reasonable to discourage high school kids from having sex at all; but that horse left the barn decades ago, so the concern must be the nature of the sex.

The banning can’t be an allegation that Mayfield High is teaching kids bad behavior. No class requires or discusses the book. It’s in the library. So are murder mysteries and perhaps Mein Kampf or Das Kapital, but Mayfield High isn’t thereby advocating murder, communism, or persecution of Jews.

The fear seems to be that kids exposed to such ideas will choose behavior or genders of which their parents would disapprove. (Gender doesn’t seem to be a choice.) As a board-member in Tennessee said, the book contains ideas about sex education “that I disagree with.” But that’s the point of reading, and education: to confront those, sometimes. The Supreme Court says “disagreeing” ain’t a constitutionally appropriate ground for banning.

So I why shouldn’t this book be there, for the occasional kid who wants to read it. Few will, so what’s the problem?

To me, the whole commercial U.S. culture, which still objectifies women and still uses sex to sell, is far more harmful to kids than anything in Jack. The pervasive view that women must be “beautiful,” as the dominant culture defines beauty, did me more harm than any book.

Peter Goodman's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.