Burning Books: The Strategy of Weak Minds to Control Ideas

Rebecca Knuth, the author of two books on book burnings and the destruction of libraries, believes that books are the targets because they “are the embodiment of ideas, and if you hold extreme beliefs, you cannot tolerate anything that contradicts those beliefs or is in competition with them.”*( https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/the-books-have-been-burning-1.887172)

The son of a close friend, and a long-time teacher, wrote this compelling letter to his superintendent and school board members. He agreed to let me integrate his words into my blog. I have, however, deleted information that identified his school district.

Superintendent and Board Members,

My name is Matt. I’m the parent of two young boys who attend a local elementary school. I’ve also been a teacher in this county since 1999. For seven of those years, I served as the Library Media Specialist.

One of the many things I learned as a Media Specialist is that media centers must serve readers of all ages, ability levels, cultures, backgrounds, personal interests, and identities. From fiction to nonfiction, poetry to prose, a library collection needs to include a wide range of materials, including some topics and subjects that may not align with everyone’s personal beliefs.

As a Media Specialist myself, there were certain materials in my collection that did not necessarily align with my own philosophies. But it was not my place to decide what other people’s children may read, nor is it the place for any one parent or ten to do so.

There is a philosophy that books should be “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.” As a mirror, we hope for our readers to see their own identities reflected in the pages of the book. As a window, we wish for readers to have a glimpse outside of their own world and into someone else’s. And as a sliding glass door, we encourage our readers to step even further from the safety of their own four walls and truly immerse themselves in someone else’s universe for a little while. When we limit our students’ access to books, we remove their ability to look out that window or to step through that sliding glass door. We allow readers to see only into our own comfortable mirrors. Worse, we prevent others from being able to see their own reflections.

While it’s fair to say that an entire library collection might not be deemed appropriate for every one of its readers, I think it’s also fair to argue that a small group of citizens should not be allowed to dictate what the vast majority of our students have access to.

As I’m sure these concerned parents already know, there is a Book Restriction Form available on every Media Center’s website that will block their own students’ access to the items they feel are inappropriate. They are welcome to encourage their friends, neighbors, and fellow community members to choose to complete these forms on behalf of their own children to whatever extent they feel is necessary. However, to demand that NO student should have access to certain books is censorship, plain and simple. It stands against the ideals of freedom, the

freedom to choose. It sends a message that says, “My reflection and my child are more important to protect than yours are.”

A librarian named Jo Godwin once quipped that “a truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.” While it is, of course, not the intent of any Media collection to offend anyone, we also cannot control what might offend someone. But more importantly–and I cannot stress this enough–the voices of the few should not be allowed to dictate the children of the many.

I thank you for your time today. I trust that the right decision will be made for the students of [our] County School District.


Adding my own thoughts on book burning would be superfluous. The recent spate of book burnings and textbook censorship should chill us all to the core. It’s one more of the heinous signs of a society, global and domestic, plummeting into chaos and darkness: mass shootings, rising crime, war in Ukraine, environmental degradation, and the roll-back of civil rights to name a few. To add an exclamation point: 11 people have been killed and 67 injured in mass shootings in the week since the children’s deaths in Uvalde.

Published by Carole J. Garrison

I’m a conversationalist, an observer, a passionate participant in life. And now, in my later years, I’m a recorder of the lessons of my life through essays, stories, and novels. I live in the fourth moment of life, just outside the normal distribution of most people and it is from this place that I write.

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