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Me, Myself, as Mommy: Books, check ’em out … don’t ban them

By Meg Sanders - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Nov 18, 2022

Photo supplied

Meg Sanders

A dirt road, a dead end, a long stretch of newly built track homes and a bunch of white, LDS people — that’s how I would describe my neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong, it was the most picturesque neighborhood filled with Norman Rockwell moments and good people, but they were all white except for the family at the end of the street.

By the time I hit junior high and high school, it was very apparent my area and my state had a major lack of diversity. Everyone, for the most part, looked like me, believed like me and there weren’t many opportunities to challenge this way of the world.

Now that we’ve covered the lack of diversity, let’s discuss the nonexistence of LGBTQIA. My street was devoid of the rainbow. In fact, I didn’t even know this world existed until my family took a trip to San Francisco. As my folks idled through the Castro District in our rented minivan, stuffed to the gills with baggage (kids included), I noticed the flags adorning windows and doors. Dad gave me a brief education. I can now look back and guffaw over the bogus notion no one in my Rockwell hood was gay — they were stuffed in a closet full of shabby pumps and floral dresses pressed for Sunday.

High school wasn’t much different. Those who I now know to be LGBTQIA couldn’t afford, both mentally or physically, to be out and proud. Instead, they were dealt the hand of giggling kids, innuendo, fear and stifled sexuality. Homogeny was the name of the game.

Books were my entry into the vast, disparate world. Mom hauled me to the Clearfield library constantly. There I could find the right book for whatever moment I was enduring, whatever experience I was craving, filling whatever gap was exposed in my simple life. Even at 12, I had a true-crime addiction, so each week I begged her to check out “Silence of The Lambs.” Julie patiently refused, asking me to pick something else. Middle school was replete with “Sweet Valley High” and R.L. Stine’s “Fear Street.” A few times, I discovered my sisters’ edgy Jack Weyland novels; reading those made me feel like a real grown-up.

High school gave me my real reading chops — Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, Arthur Miller and two favorite books of my youth, “The Catcher in The Rye” by J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” My teachers forced books like “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” upon me. It was this book that made me realize the racism, the ugly words and the history I wanted to avoid in my life. This is a book which often appears on the banned book lists. Oddly enough, so do the aforementioned. Reaching out to Weber School District, I learned, thus far, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is still required reading in high school.

Books are being banned in our schools because some parents believe the content isn’t healthy for our children. Groups like Utah Parents United are using the guise of parental rights to dictate what words can appear on the school stacks. Combing the Utah Parents United website, I could not find board members’ names nor resumes. I can’t decide what irritates me more, the fact they’ve probably never read all the books they rail against or that they claim to be advocating for parental choice despite fighting for censorship. I want to tell them, “I’m sorry you don’t know what your kid is reading; leave mine out of it.”

Currently, some of the books they want removed focus on the reality of racism — a topic few of these women know a thing about. Books like “The Hate U Give,” “The Bluest Eye” or “Out of Darkness” are examples of works pulled from libraries. Yes, it always works out well when we silence Black voices. Furthermore, these “parental rights” groups claim books like “The Bluest Eye” promote pornography — if you think rape is sex, you’ve got bigger problems than these novels.

Utah Parents United isn’t the primary problem, it’s the Utah Legislature doing the most damage. Radical groups can’t bite unless the Legislature lets them off the leash. Lawmakers passed a bill looking to rid libraries of “pornographic material.” Interesting that our state lawmakers know what constitutes pornography while the Supreme Court grapples with the definition. It should be noted, most of those books on the so-called “banned list” are for high school-age students. If your high school kid has a smart phone, your worry over pornography is moot — according to Psychology Today, they’ve already seen it and you’re the one who gave them access.

In the end, the Utah State Board of Education was given the right to decide what books were deemed appropriate for all our children. They removed books by Black authors addressing Black issues — i.e., “The Hate U Give.” It makes complete sense to give government the right to decide what words my children have access to, particularly a government body as diverse as our state board. Heterogeny is the name of the game.

Janis Christensen was just reelected to the Weber School Board this week. According to Weber School District, there are no banned books … on the books. Please let Ms. Christensen know that if she’s a true proponent of “parental rights” (she was endorsed and supports Utah Parents United), small government and education, she will let parents decide what’s best for their children. Ask her to avoid censorship and silence, and instead push for discussion amongst family.

Reading the words, thoughts, experiences of other humans opens our minds to a new, often different perspective. It was books that gave me the life experiences not available in my neighborhood. Books breed empathy and kindness, the buzz words I see in screen-print across kids’ T-shirts their parents buy. If parents want a choice in what their kids read, be present, pay attention, ask questions and explain why they aren’t to a point in life where that book will give them growth and understanding. Books give your child the chance to explore other worlds, countries, cities and neighborhoods all while staying close, safe in the home you provide.

Meg Sanders worked in broadcast journalism for over a decade but has since turned her life around to stay closer to home in Ogden. Her three children keep her indentured as a taxi driver, stylist and sanitation worker. In her free time, she likes to read, write, lift weights and go to concerts with her husband of 17 years.

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