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Q&A: San Francisco author David Parker on today’s troubling book banning tactics

As an educator who is also a writer and a musician, I’m opposed to censorship of any kind.

Turkish crisis turns books into vanishing luxuries
Books have turned into luxury items for many Turks, who are suffering from soaring inflation and a volatile currency - Copyright AFP Ozan KOSE
Books have turned into luxury items for many Turks, who are suffering from soaring inflation and a volatile currency - Copyright AFP Ozan KOSE

When it comes to education, there’s not a lot that David Parker hasn’t experienced. The author from San Francisco started his career as an elementary school teacher in San Francisco’s inner city public schools in the early 1970s.

As an educator who is also a father and a grandfather, Parker knows first-hand how having a broad exposure to books at an early age can transform young lives. He is also deeply concerned as an author about how the current movement in the U.S. to ban certain books poses a bigger threat than ever to democracy. He recently spoke with Digital Journal about why this latest politically charged effort is particularly troublesome now.

Digital Journal: Why have the recent attempts to ban books here in the U.S. been so much more aggressive than in the past?  

David Parker: In part, it’s an overreaction to woke parents pressing schools to teach unconventional literature and ideals. It’s especially rampant in GOP controlled states. In the end, it poses a much bigger threat to public schools than private schools where the administration has more autonomy to oversee the curriculum.

DJ: Why is this something people need to be concerned about?

Parker: The fear fuelling these bans is largely unfounded. It’s something we can’t afford to tolerate as a society regardless of whether we are talking about our own kids or someone else’s.

For young people to truly effect change, they first need to understand the obstacles others face. By limiting access to books, we deny them the opportunity to obtain crucial information, learn new points of view and hopefully someday begin working towards resolving some of our most pressing issues.

DJ: In terms of some of the books that are in the greatest jeopardy, are there any that trouble you the most?

Parker: As an educator who is also a writer and a musician, I’m opposed to censorship of any kind. However, I am especially troubled by the largest push yet again to go after the great classics like Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has literally been on the hit list somewhere ever since it was first released in 1885 even though it is also considered, arguably, America’s greatest novel.

Another example is Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which was the first book to explore a Black man’s experiences of race and identity from the South to Harlem. It has been a target since it was published over 70 years ago even though Ellison was the first African American writer to win the National Book Award for Fiction.

The age appropriateness of books like these and many others have historically been screened by the various Departments of Education in each state who have generally made wise choices. To let parents start making these decisions now is a huge mistake, because when that happens then it’s only a matter of time before the loudest parents get their way. It’s called mob rule.

DJ: People define “banned” books as ones that have already been removed from a shelf or a curriculum. There are also “challenged” books like Huckleberry Finn, which you mention, and many others? Do you think it’s important to differentiate between the two?

Parker: It’s essential. These debates have been a staple of school board meetings across the nation for decades. The issue now isn’t so much that the frequency of these debates has changed. It’s the tactics behind them and the venues where they tend to play out. Most troubling to are the conservative groups influenced by social media who increasingly push these agendas into statehouses and political races. It should be left up to the school districts themselves to decide.

DJ: Do you think the “banned” versus “challenged” label being given to these books makes a difference in terms of how important they really are?

Parker: Not really. The common denominator between the two is that challenged and banned books are usually given this designation because they are important.

Those who are demanding that certain books be removed often maintain that it’s an issue of parental rights and choice, while others say that prohibiting these books altogether violates the rights of other parents and children who believe access is important. What most people don’t realize, however, is that it’s not an all or nothing proposition. Another thing a lot of people don’t know is that school libraries already have systems in place to prevent individual students from checking out books their parents disapprove of.

DJ: Beyond the threats to democracy and freedom of speech, what are the additional dangers of limiting access in your view?

Parker: That in and of itself is enough for me.  By attacking any author or book or subject, what you are doing is removing the possibility for healthy discourse and laying the groundwork instead for disrespect, bullying and even violence. This is what is most distressing of all.

DJ: Is there anything we can do as individuals to fight book banning?

Yes. We must never forget that every voice counts. Make sure that yours is heard loudly by doing everything you can to support school board members who are willing to fight this. The future of our country depends on it.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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