I loved my school library growing up. I was first in the checkout line when the new “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books hit the shelves, and I still find comfort in libraries today. Something I have always found endearing about rooms filled with books is that I am surrounded by opportunities to learn more about the world. Now, with the introduction of Indiana State Senate Bill 12, which would be effective on July 1, 2023, children may not have the same access to information about the world as I did.
According to the bill’s text, SB 12 partially aims to establish a complaint system for parents to submit to librarians about the content available in school libraries. The bill also states that schools may not make books or materials available in school libraries if they are defined as containing obscene or inappropriate matters that are harmful to minors.
Now, I am not going to say that there is no inappropriate content that could be found in a school library if there are no regulations or guidelines. And, of course, there will be parents who disagree with the content their children consume at school; they should have a system in place to voice their concerns. However, what is concerning about this bill is the vagueness with which harmful content is defined. This makes it easy to target certain topics that may not necessarily harm children outside the perceptions of conservative politics. The bill cites Indiana Code § 35-49-2-2, which defines what is harmful to minors. Included are the obvious guidelines that content depicting things such as nudity, sexual conduct and abuse is not appropriate for minors to consume. I agree, especially for younger children who cannot grasp concepts that, for example, a high school student would be capable of. What is concerning is the last part of the law, which states that a topic or performance is harmful if it is considered to lack “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.” I think this is incredibly subjective and flimsy. Anybody could make a case that something lacks value for children. It opens the door for targeted attacks on children’s ability to understand the growing, more accepting world around them.
According to Humanium, “… Representation in literature and media plays a significant role in child development and growth because it helps children to understand the reality they live in or to discover other cultures, giving them the opportunity to develop empathy and respect for cultural differences.” As a society, we should strive to foster acceptance, love, kindness and integrity in our children. Banning literature is counterintuitive to that cause because it says to these children: this is wrong, you should not be exposed to this because there is something wrong with it. With this in mind, it is no coincidence that the books being pulled off shelves typically contain content pertaining to race, gender and sexuality, with PEN America reporting that, out of the 1,648 titles in their banned book index (including books banned in libraries and classrooms across the US), 41% contains content that “explicitly address LGBTQ+ themes or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ+.” PEN America also reported that 40% of those titles “contain protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color.”
In terms of LGBTQ matters, which have clearly been placed at the forefront of culture-war politics, I do not think a child has to be exposed to sexual content to learn about the LGBTQ community in a nourishing way. The fact is: these communities exist and deserve to have their stories told. It is time we abandon values that are a detriment to the growth of this country. Why should children, who may have two fathers or two mothers, not be able to see their family dynamic reflected in the stories they read? What does the banning of this content communicate to these children? Why are non-heterosexual relationships reduced only to sex? To those who may not understand the hypocrisy of the matter at hand, imagine if children were learning about a nuclear family dynamic through literature and that content was deemed to no longer have value, and, as a consequence of this, every book deemed as displaying this inappropriate content were to be taken off shelves. Imagine if librarians could be arrested and prosecuted for distributing such heinous content to children. With this in mind, it seems as if conservatives rely more on a moral high ground than on protecting children.