Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Federal Censorship of Children’s Book?

Tibor R. Machan

Governments run the country’s schools and while some variation is still evident in how they are administered, there is a pretty strong movement toward a one-size-fits-all policy. Certainly, when the United States federal Congress can pass bills banning books from use in elementary schools, this does not bode well for educational pluralism and diversity.

A little book, King & King, by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland (published in Berkeley, CA, by Tricycle Press), is the occasion for Congress’ threatened ban. Some Republican politicians are very upset because King & King is about gay marriage and treats it approvingly, as a valid option for citizens who wish to marry others of their own sex. Instead of leaving it all to the educators and their clients, the parents, the politicians are about to butt in. And why should they not?

When government takes over an area of our lives, it will follow the lead of whoever happens to have the power to impose a preferred policy. In a society that amounts to an approximate democracy, such things should be expected however unhappy they will make many of us. Politicization of education is rife in America now—elementary, secondary, and university education are all replete with numerous agendas over which parents and students have zero say. There was, of course, sex education; later came all the indoctrination about how wonderful the United Nations is for the world; then, and still continuing big time, came environmentalism, with its sub-branches of global warming and animal “rights” propaganda. Preaching against drug use was part of this trend. And, of course, there are the endless battles over whether any or how much religion may enter the classroom.

The bottom line is that education at all levels cannot be neutral. Even in the hard sciences teachers will sneak in their own ideas about abortion, the origin of the universe, and other controversial topics. And there is really nothing awful about this for a free society. One would expect such diversity at our schools as much as one would on the magazine racks around the country. (A free press is a good model by which to assess how a free system of education, divorced entirely from government, would look like.)

But to suggest such an approach to education amounts to out and out heresy for most mainstream commentators. Recently I made a suggestions along these lines in the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry and the next issue published several lengthy letters to the editor, each denouncing my position. One even proposed that there is ample diversity in public—government—education, so why fret? (I wonder how that letter writer will respond to the Congressional efforts to bring about a nationwide ban on King & King?)

As for me, I have no objection at all to telling young people about the gay marriage option. Certainly my three children were apprised of that early in their lives and last I checked I detected no outrage on their part about it. But there are many who do see endorsing gay marriage as something evil, based on their religious convictions, upbringing, politics, or whatever. And while I and many who have no objection to gay marriage may engage in civil debate with these folks, we will not impose on their children classroom instructions against their own beliefs. (In a relatively open society students will have occasion to meet up with contrary opinions outside their class rooms anyway, so why make a fuss?)

Congressional butting in is only palatable in areas of our lives that have become politicized. No one in Congress can threaten a bill to ban certain sermons in church, to force editorial writers to treat ideas fairly, and so forth. This is because the U. S. Constitution wisely, if rather partially, regards religion and journalism off limits to political interference. Sadly that is not what the Constitution does about education.