Parents have a legitimate right to regulate the outside influences that may shape their children’s view of the world. But do these same parents have the right to determine what influences a nation of children? When do parents’ rules for their own children’s welfare infringe upon the freedom of all other children?
This question needs to be asked before politicians impose more restrictions on movie and music industries. The freedom of artistic expression is protected by a document that every American is familiar with: the Bill of Rights, an integral part of the United States Constitution. The First Amendment grants everyone freedom of speech and press, and “concerned parents” violate that amendment in their endeavor to “save” America’s children.
If parents do not feel that such things are fit for their own children, then let them forbid their entry into their own households by turning off the radio or television when something offensive is aired. But do not let them govern what everyone else’s children should not be exposed to.
A personal experience led me to this conclusion at an early age. Way back when I was a wee fifth grader at George Washington Elementary Intermediate School, I attended a library session with my class every week. To make these visits more fun and also to introduce students to literature, the librarian would read stories aloud, often changing her voice to assume different characters.
On Halloween , the librarian read a version of the Celtic folk tale Tam Lin. This excited me, because it was a bedtime story which my father read to my brother and me. So I eagerly listened as she wove the tale of Janet and Tam Lin.
Other students did not have the same reaction. Some admitted they had been scared, while others just hadn’t paid any attention at all. But one student had an unusual reaction. Prompted by her mother, the little girl complained to the authorities that the story was told in order to instill the devil inside us, and accused the librarian of being a witch (yes this was 1994, not 1694). Her mother called in a lawyer from Harrisburg to assist in her assault on folk literature.
To me, this was an outrage for an eleven-year-old raised on Spike Jones, Prokofiev, Maya Angelou, and Simon and Garfunkel. For example, in their attack on the librarian, the mother and her lawyer wrongly defined the word “steed,” which is an animal, generally a horse, used for riding, calling it some kind of demon. From this experience, I learned that not all adults are more intelligent than children, which was all the more shocking to a child of two intellectuals.
The girl’s mother and her lawyer worked hard to convince the principal and superintendent to fire the librarian, but the teacher’s union fought the effort and she held on to her job. I don’t, however, believe that she ever read Tam Lin to her classes again.
This incident has strengthened my view that one person’s belief should not control everyone else’s.
Censorship has no place in American society.