Article: You can’t say that!

The following is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Northwest Iowa REVIEW. The author highlighted the hypocrisy of those pushing the pro-homosexual, pro-transgender movement:

“You can’t say that on the radio!” exclaimed the moderator of KWIT’s talk show The Exchange on February 28. She removed “that” from the online version of the live broadcast.

The Exchange featured four panelists discussing the book controversy at the Orange City Library. I spoke as a former Orange City resident and current library card holder who participates in several of the many programs offered.

I was the target of her censorship. I merely hinted at one word and stated two other words actually printed in the book entitled “Two Boys Kissing.” Another panelist had earlier praised the book, so it was reasonable for me to discuss its contents.

“So, it’s not OK for me to say those words on the air on a radio program listened to by adults, but it is OK for children to read them without their parents’ knowledge or permission?” I persisted. She had no answer.

Full disclosure: That was a paraphrase of our conversation. I can’t recall the exact wording and the online version has it edited out.

The book “Two Boys Kissing” also includes violent scenes of child abuse and hate crimes. It explains how AIDS is acquired; its treatments; and that the outcome often is death. It describes suggestive setting and male sexual arousal, among other sexual content.

I noted that I object to the offensive language and overt explicit sexual content being accessible to children with no warning. I added that I would feel the same were the content heterosexual instead of homosexual, with the title of “Boy and Girl Kissing,” and an explanation of sexually-transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis.

As a dissenting panelist pointed out, I have not read the book. I got my information on the contents from Commonsense Media, which recommends the book for ages 12 and up.

I tried getting the book; I really did. Alton, Boyden, Granville, Hospers, Hull, Sheldon, Rock Valley, and Sioux Center libraries do not carry it. All of those head librarians, when I asked, answered that they do not plan to acquire the book “Two Boys Kissing.”

Iowa has 517 libraries, as of 2016. Of those, 43 have the print version and another six have a recorded version. In other words, fewer than 10% of Iowa’s libraries carry this particular book. The Orange City library is one of those, but its copy was not available. 

I proposed what I think is a common sense solution to the conundrum of balancing community values while avoiding censorship. It involves applying the Motion Picture Association of America’s standards for evaluating movies and rating books accordingly.

No one would say the MPAA is anti LGBTQ. However, the book “Two Boys Kissing” would receive at least a PG-13 rating not because of its subject, but because of its contents. 

Books already are “labeled” by the age for which they are written or by the audience to whom they are appealing: K-2; Easy Reader; Juvenile; Young Adult; and Adult are often used.
No one decries this as censorship.

Why not have a panel of parents, like the MPAA does for movies, evaluate library books? They do not apply personal standards or value judgments. Instead, they tally the content of strong language, sexual content, adult themes, and violence, and label books accordingly.

All four panelists, myself included, as well as the moderator, mentioned parental responsibility as being the most important factor for determining what their own children should read. We also agreed, I think, that it is not our goal to restrict what other people read or what other parents permit their children to read.

However, it is not possible for concerned parents to read all 27,611 books that are in the Orange City library, as of January 2018. Nor would it be necessary for the rating panel to do so. 

Why not start with the 168 items flagged as having strong sexual content? Apply the MPAA guidelines to those that are books. Put the rating sticker of G, PG, PG-13, or R on the spine. That is not censorship any more than the current sticker system, which no one has opposed.

Parents would need to train their children which stickers mark books which they are permitted to look at or check out.  Different families will have different boundaries, but no books will be singled out or censored.

Will children sneak a peek at books their parents have forbidden or cautioned against? Probably. But children pushing against or ignoring appropriate boundaries does not keep responsible parents from setting them and dealing with the consequences when children disobey.

I would recommend formal evaluation of current books and future acquisitions up through those that get a J sticker for juvenile readers. Parents can teach their children to show them young adult or adult (YA or A) books before the children read them. For the most part, books with “mature” elements are blatant about it and a quick skimming reveals questionable content.

I requested at the beginning of The Exchange that each of us describe the issue and suggest a goal. Here is my statement: “The Orange City Library has acquired, mainly in recent years, materials aimed at children that include language, sexuality, and violence that are inappropriate for the age at which they are targeted.”

My goal, as stated on The Exchange, is “to reach agreement about reasonable accommodations at the Orange City Library regarding access to and accurate labeling of sensitive subjects addressed to children, while respecting both diversity and community standards.”

Today, I would add this: “Help parents fulfill their responsibility to raise their children according to their own values by making it easier for them to guide their children to books that are appropriate for their age and maturity.”