Commentary: Liberals also have fears

Some Virginia parents want control over the books their children are exposed to in school. That is understandable but banning certain books is not the answer. Also, the attempt to ban books raisesthe question of who is responsible for teaching young people self-control. It also asks of what are parents fearful.

We live in an age of rapid change and changes raise fears. It is not easy to change and it is not wrong to fear change.

Pope Francis has deemed this the “Year of Mercy.” Essential to the concept of mercy is to approach others with a sense of compassion, which means to suffer with them, to try to understand their fears. Conservatives and liberals can share the same fears but come to different conclusions as to how best to address them.

When I was young, I could not imagine that they would ever be selling Viagra on television. When I was young, gay men were in danger of being beaten if they left the closet, so few did. In this age, gay men can marry and if you beat up a gay man you should go to jail, and likely will. Now, a beautiful woman suggests you can do something about erectile dysfunction in a manner that makes you want to fix things right away!

I was raised in a conservative Catholic household, particularly when it came to any discussion of sex. I was produced by two people who loved each other and wanted children. Presumably they engaged in sex but they did not talk to their children about it. I wish they had.

Many fear that exposure to the so-called “homosexual lifestyle” will make homosexuality more acceptable and will perhaps turn their children gay as if exposure to gay people will render their children gay in the process. This is no more likely than exposing our children to French people will make them French.

I’ve read things in books that have challenged or even shocked me. But, I read on because it is good to read things that challenge us. Sometimes the things I read provide me with a new perspective and either challenge or confirm my opinions. If I closed my mind off from that which challenges me, I would cease to grow and would become weaker and smaller. This is particularly true in the case of political opinions.

Parents in Virginia want their children not to be exposed to things for which they are not ready. They fear that exposure to certain themes or experiences in a book will cause their children to stray from the values of their families. This is an understandable fear but banning books seems not to be the answer. At a time when children are exposed to sexual messages in prime time, will banning a book lessen the chances of that exposure? It seems it would not. Or, do some parents want to shelter their children from history so that the experience of slavery, for example, is hidden from their young minds?

Good teachers in good schools can be trusted to expose their students to material that they can handle given their level of maturity. Is it the books we don’t trust or the teachers? What many conservatives want to ban are the schools and the prevailing culture that they don’t trust the schools to challenge. It is the job of education to question the prevailing culture and impart timeless values found in great literature. But the schools can’t be banned. They can, however, be left to those who have no option for a private education. We do not need to fix the books but we do need to fix the public schools and to invest in education so that they remain the foundation for what Jefferson called an “informed citizenry.”

Banning books is an old solution. Let’s try something new. Let’s fully engage in the education of our children and argue with them about what they read and think. Perhaps they have something to teach us. If we are worried about an over-sexed culture, let’s talk about sex with our children in a way that is informative, tender and loving. Tell them that they did not come from a bond that was crude and exploitive.

In the final analysis, let us act with confidence in ourselves as parents and teachers. Let us pass on the values that have sustained us while letting our children grow. Let us affirm our confident hopes and not our fears.

Tom Howarth is a resident of Front Royal