WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2023
Is surprised by his own reaction: Long ago and far away, we ourselves were able to witness a public school "book ban."
At issue was the Hemingway short story, Up in Michigan. Experts who have read the story summarize its content as shown:
Jim Gilmore, a blacksmith, comes to Hortons Bay and buys the blacksmith shop. Liz Coates, who has a crush on Jim, is a young woman who works as a waitress for the Smiths. Jim, D. J. Smith, and Charley Wyman go on a deer-hunting trip. When the hunters return, they have a few drinks to celebrate their kill. After supper and a few more drinks, Jim goes into the kitchen and fondles Liz, and says, "Come on for a walk." They go to the end of the dock where Jim's hands explore Liz's body. She is frightened and begs him to stop. He forces himself upon her and passes out on top of her. She gets out from under him and tries to awaken him, and covers him with her coat.
Due to its undisguised content, this early Hemingway story was always controversial. Decades later, in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway recalled the way he'd been reproached by Gertrude Stein for writing material that no one would be willing to publish.
Around that same time, we high school students at Aragon High were handed copies of a collection of Hemingway stories. Up in Michigan had been razorcut out of each copy.
Even then, in a liberal-leaning suburban San Francisco high school, someone had decided that this one particular story was inappropriate for us high school kids. Our teacher, the late Jim Price, called our attention to this action—and, if memory serves, he strongly disapproved of this particular "ban."
Longer story shorter:
Rightly or wrongly, people have always felt that certain types of material would be inappropriate for distribution in public schools. Almost surely, there are books that most modern liberals would be disinclined to present to public school students, even today.
What sorts of material are age- or grade-appropriate for use in public schools? Inevitably, such questions will involve matters of judgment. That said, two victims of modern "book bans" are apparently ready to go to the mattresses over the ongoing bans.
We refer to the authors of And Tango Makes Three, a book we've never read. Their letter appears in today's New York Times. We include its text in full:
Civil Disobedience Against Book Bans?
To the Editor:
Re “This Summer, I Became the Book-Banning Monster of Iowa,” by Bridgette Exman (Opinion guest essay, Sept. 3):
The writer is clearly no monster, and we appreciate how hurtful it must have been for her to be harshly criticized for removing books from school libraries. But as banned authors, we sympathize more deeply with Iowa’s children, who deserve better from school officials than their dutiful execution (however reluctant) of laws that violate fundamental human rights.
Those rights, including freedom of speech, depend on the actions of courageous citizens willing to take risks to defend them. Countless Americans—teachers, librarians and superintendents among them—are working bravely and creatively to resist the regressive tide of book banning today, and we owe them our deepest thanks.
Sharing in The Times that her actions pained her does little for Ms. Exman’s students or the authors whose books she removed, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker among them. Of course, it is human to protect one’s livelihood by following orders even when they violate one’s principles and the rights of others.
But it is not good enough. Children and authors, and the freedoms they rely on, need heroes.Peter Parnell, Justin Richardson
The writers are the authors of “And Tango Makes Three” and recently filed suit in Florida over the banning and restriction of their book in school libraries.
You're right! These authors haven't exactly advocated "civil disobedience" in reaction to these Florida "book bans." The headline seems to refer to a recommendation found in the third letter published by the Times on this topic today.
Is there anything about And Tango Makes Three which makes it inappropriate for use in a public school? More broadly, is any book ever inappropriate for such placement?
Needless to say, those are matters of judgment. Today, we call your attention to Aymann Ismail's account of what happened when he decided to peruse one of today's "banned books."
Ismail is a staff writer at Slate, a site which has increasingly moved toward sex-based "advice columns" pretty much all the time. The dumbing down of this particular site may serve as a warning to us within our blue silo, where we're strongly inclined to overstate how brilliant we actually are.
Ismail is a 34-year-old father of two. He graduated from Rutgers in 2011. You can read his new essay here. As of yesterday, it was summarized on Slate's front page in the manner shown:
I documenteded “book bans.” I thought they were hysteria. Then I opened one of the most controversial books.
Uh-oh! Long story short, Ismail had been in line with the tribal claim that modern-day "book bans" were just the latest form of hysteria on the part of those in the red tribe silo.
Then he persued one of the books which has most commonly been "banned." In this passage, he starts to describe his reaction to the book. Below, we'll call attention to one amusing point:
ISMAIL (9/11/23): There is no shortage of books being used to panic parents into protesting their local schools or libraries. Concerns over books like The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson are easy to shrug off, given how challengers contort themselves to argue that scenes involving sex are simultaneously promoting promiscuity. And it’s hard to believe that a child would accidentally stumble on certain hand-picked selections from novels that are hundreds of pages long.
It’s Perfectly Normal is harder to shrug away. It’s not difficult to see why this book has been an effective cudgel, both in recent years and practically since it was published: Its images are particularly blunt and graphic. That articles and social media posts about parents’ concerns over those cartoons have often blurred them out serves to prove their point. Earlier this year, a pastor in Asheville, North Carolina, made headlines after his mic was cut off during a school board meeting. “If you don’t want to hear it in a school board meeting, why should children be able to check it out of the school system?” he reportedly shouted...
I felt sure that as a 34-year-old father of two there would be nothing in there that would offend my sensibilities. I’d heard nothing but glowing reviews from sex-ed pros about the child-friendly language in the book. But flipping through the book’s pages finally, I was a little shocked...
Ismail goes on to describe his reactions to this frequently "banned" book. Along the way, he touches on an amusing point:
Often, newspapers which defend such books against blue tribe "bans" refuse to publish the parts of the books which have produced the complaints. This may "serve to prove [the book-banners'] point," Ismail wryly muses.
Summarizing, Ismail was surprised by his own reactions to It's Perfectly Normal, given his general prior stance concerning the "banning" of books. His sensibilities rose up to offend him in a way he hadn't expected.
A shocking possibility may lurk in this essay by Ismail. As we noted yesterday, that shocking possibility was recently voiced by Bill Maher, in the following way:
[Trump supporters] see him as the one thing that is standing between them and something even crazier. And there is a lot of Crazy on the left.
Those of us within our blue silo have railed at the Others with their incessant "book bans." But when Ismail perused this particular book, he found that he himself wasn't sure how he felt about its graphic contents.
Should this book be on the shelves of libraries in our public schools? We have no idea how to answer that question, but we'll make this suggestion:
In an age of cultural segregation—in an age when we the people frequently live in separate silos—it's easy denounce the Others for their racist / homophobic / transphobic ways.
(Or for being "Marxists," an assessment commonly tossed around on the comically awful Fox & Friends.)
Our blue tribe does that sort of thing all the time. Whatever we may end up deciding about some particular policy or book, it may be harder to consider the possibility that the Others may not be quite as crazy or evil or subhuman as we have instinctively claimed.
Bill Maher told Ari Melber that there's even a lot of crazy over here on the left! When people have started living in silos, that can sounds like a crazy idea in itself.
That said, we've seen a lot of backsliding by blue tribe members in recent days. Have some of the notions we have framed as we live in our own blue silo possibly been a bit overwrought? Is it possible that Maher was a tiny bit right?
Long ago and far way, someone razorcut Up in Michigan out of our public school textbook.
On balance, that decision may have been unwise.
That said, is it possible that residents of our own blue silo can overreact to such behaviors? Is it possible that we ourselves can end up being unhelpful, self-defeating? Can we end up being unwise in spite of our ballyhooed brilliance?
Tomorrow: Some liberals say they (almost) agree with DeSantis!