Dom Testa

Author / Speaker/ Broadcaster

One of My Books Was Banned?

My goal was simple: Give away 1500 books - written under one of my pen names, Buster Blank - to elementary schools. Dozens of schools signed up for the giveaway, eleven were selected, and congratulatory emails were sent. Next stop? Happily delivering boxes of free books to schools that too often must scrape together funds in order to purchase library materials.

But wait, not so fast; something strange happened on the way to Littleton, Colorado. One of the winning schools, in the course of a week, shifted from accepting $850 worth of books to BANNING the book entirely from their campus. Even as I write these words I’m shaking my head.

You might assume the book is edgy, chock full of foul language, or rife with sexual innuendo. No, no, and no. Or perhaps you think the book encourages delinquent behavior. Nope. Ah, then the book must take a political side that would surely cause strife. Again, no.

The book has none of that. On the contrary, it ends up teaching an important, valuable lesson regarding social acceptance - something I thought all schools were hungry to impart to their students. And yet, this particular public school wants nothing to do with the story.

And what killed the book at this school? The title. The book is called Shaking Demons.

The school’s instructional coach - who somehow wields decision-making power over the rest of the faculty - claimed, “. . . we are worried we would have some parent concerns due to the social/emotional concerns of students here as well as religious beliefs.”

I’m confused. Religious beliefs? There are no satanic demons in the story. There’s nary a single religious reference in the book. The so-called “demons” in the title essentially act as the main character’s conscience, helping him to ultimately make a wise and thoughtful decision, teaching him - and the reader - to accept others and to be open to new people and ideas.

This isn’t a rant against one school’s choice. In fact, since posting my puzzled reaction on social media, I’ve received no fewer than six passionate offers from organizations to help me “fight this.” I have no interest in that; there are many schools who not only have embraced the book, but have raved about its message and its impact on their students. I won’t waste energy attempting to convince one teacher of the book’s value when there are hundreds of other schools hungry for it.

The bigger issue, I believe, is the irrational frenzy to shield kids from anything which might be perceived as offensive. Personally, I detest that word and the suffocating use of it. We’ve reached a point where we cannot simply disagree with something; we must be offended by it. And if one person raises a hand to object to a book, or any other artistic expression, it's often labeled offensive. Ban it!

J.K. Rowling has indeed sold hundreds of millions of copies of her series about a boy wizard, but not without having to bear the cries of those who refuse to allow their children anywhere near it. A fantastic narrative, captivating characters, and your basic story of good triumphing over evil . . . but let’s not expose Ashley to a - gulp - wizard. Heavens!

And now Shaking Demons is blacklisted. Never mind that it could very well be a story that resonates in a positive way with students.

It’s sad. Although you’d think we’re advancing toward a more enlightened, accepting, and open-minded society, I sometimes fear we’re moving the other direction: over-sensitive, over-protective, and terrified of anyone quick to describe their position as outraged (another exhausted word).

Schools and educators who once bravely championed freedom of thought and expression are pressured to play it safe. I don’t necessarily blame them; I sympathize with them. We live in an age of complaints and lawsuits, and sometimes it’s just not worth the fight. Be careful, don’t take any chances, lest a parent loudly protest.

I’m concerned that we’re gradually eliminating one of the greatest assets a child can develop: the power of intellectually choosing for themselves. Instead of presenting a variety of ideas and positions, thereby encouraging a young person to hone their abilities to judge and discern, we’ll feed them only a select menu of approved concepts. Perhaps it won’t be long until books are sanitized for their protection, and can feature only rainbows, puppies, and unicorns.

Unless the horn on a unicorn is, of course, deemed demonic.

* * * * *

I’d love to know your thoughts. Perhaps you agree wholeheartedly with the school’s decision. If so, I’d be interested to hear your opinion.

P.O. Box 370567     Denver, CO     80237