What’s so dangerous about books?

by Teri Carter, Kentucky Lantern

When Grandpa Pete died in November 2011, I was in a car full of fam­i­ly mem­bers as we drove from the funer­al ser­vice to the ceme­tery when some­one said, “I’ve nev­er read more than three pages in any book.” This 40-some­thing col­lege grad­u­ate went on to tell us that any book worth read­ing would be made into a movie, and why would any­one in their right mind spend days read­ing a book when they could watch the movie in two hours?

I remem­ber not both­er­ing to respond, because how do you even begin to argue with igno­rance like that? 

I thought about this person’s log­ic, or lack there­of, as I lis­tened to Kentucky GOP leg­is­la­tors last week try­ing to explain why cer­tain kinds of books should not be avail­able to stu­dents in a class­room or school library. 

Senate Bill 5, which is spon­sored by Sen. Jason Howell, passed 29–4 and now heads to the House. The bill aims to for­mal­ize a com­plaint process for schools to fil­ter mate­ri­als that par­ents con­sid­er inap­pro­pri­ate for their children. 

Obvious ques­tions arise: What hap­pens when a kid who is banned from check­ing out a book has a friend check it out for them? What are the con­se­quences? And do those con­se­quences apply to the kid, the friend, and the teacher? What hap­pens when one teacher han­dles this one way, and a teacher down the hall han­dles it differently?

What if a kid needs to read a banned book to write a paper? Does this mean the teacher has to care­ful­ly assign dif­fer­ent books for the same assign­ment? And what hap­pens when the kids who have read and writ­ten about the banned book read their papers aloud in class in front of the kid who was not allowed to read the book?

I am remind­ed of schools where lunch still costs mon­ey and kids whose accounts are in arrears are hand­ed a sep­a­rate “free” lunch. I see an adult in the cafe­te­ria pulling the child aside to say, pos­si­bly in front of oth­er stu­dents, “You are not allowed to have the same nour­ish­ment that every­one else is having.” 

Is the fear tru­ly that a child might read a book con­tain­ing sub­ject-mat­ter they are not pre­pared for — about race, sex, gen­der, reli­gion, abuse, sub­stance abuse, etc — or that they might read these books and begin to think and ask hard ques­tions of the adults in their lives about the envi­ron­ment that they, their friends, and their fam­i­ly mem­bers are liv­ing in? 

And then there is this. School chil­dren of all ages and their teach­ers are forced — they can’t opt out, can they? — to rou­tine­ly prac­tice active shoot­er drills in our schools. Where is the con­cern that prac­tic­ing lock­down or how to escape a mass shoot­ing or learn­ing how to apply com­bat-lev­el first aid might be harm­ing our kids?

Hardly a week goes by with­out news of a child being shot. In October, a 12-year-old boy in Knott County fatal­ly shot a 4‑year-old girl. There are so many reports about kids being shot to death (includ­ing in their class­rooms) that it bare­ly reg­is­ters as break­ing news any­more. “Thoughts and prayers” are often tweet­ed by Republican law­mak­ers while they use the pow­er and influ­ence of their offices to do absolute­ly nothing. 

But books. Yes, right. Books are dangerous.

According to Dr. Sabrina Brown, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor and researcher at the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Injury Prevention Research Center, “The lead­ing cause of death for peo­ple ages 1 to 19 is firearm relat­ed. … Children aver­aged 19 ER vis­its per year for unin­ten­tion­al firearm relat­ed injuries from 2016–2021, with a spike in 2020. Children ages 4 and under account­ed for 34%; 5–7‑year-olds account­ed for 31%; and 8–10-year-olds account­ed for 35%.” 

I lis­tened last week as Sen. Stephen Meredith, who seems hell­bent on push­ing SB5, say, “I nev­er imag­ined in my life we would have drag queen sto­ry hour at a library for chil­dren… What’s next? Do we bring pros­ti­tutes to school for career day?” and I felt the same as I did back in 2011, in the crowd­ed fam­i­ly car on the way to the ceme­tery. What does any of this have to do with read­ing? And yet, how do you even begin to argue with a fun­da­men­tal lev­el of igno­rance like this?

When was the last time Sen. Meredith and his GOP col­leagues read more than three pages of a book? Have any of them ful­ly read — oth­er than a few excerpts — the books they sup­port banning?

And unlike the mas­sive num­ber of American chil­dren who die every year by firearm, when was the last doc­u­ment­ed account of a child read­ing a book that con­tained infor­ma­tion about the human body — a woman’s breasts, mas­tur­ba­tion, but­tocks, same-sex par­ent­ing  — that result­ed in the death of that child?

The answer is: never.

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, a net­work of news bureaus sup­port­ed by grants and a coali­tion of donors as a 501c(3) pub­lic char­i­ty. Kentucky Lantern main­tains edi­to­r­i­al inde­pen­dence. Contact Editor Jamie Lucke for ques­tions: info@kentuckylantern.com. Follow Kentucky Lantern on Facebook and Twitter.

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