Despite the firestorm (1, 2) over the WSJ article about YA fiction, I did agree with this paragraph by Meghan Cox Gurdon, which she talks about the process of guiding what young people read:

“In the book trade, this is known as ‘banning.’ In the parenting trade, however, we call this ‘judgment’ or ‘taste.’ It is a dereliction of duty not to make distinctions in every other aspect of a young person’s life between more and less desirable options. Yet let a gatekeeper object to a book and the industry pulls up its petticoats and shrieks ‘censorship!'”

Censorship is a word that has sprawled over its boundaries in Kudzu-like fashion to places it doesn’t belong. Examples:

  • “Self-Censorship.” This is a terrible mashup. There is no such thing. Instead of bastardizing the idea of the censor, you might adapt language like “prudence” or “selectivity.”
  • “Parental Censorship.” There is no such thing. That’s just called parenting. Parents have a responsibility to try to guide their child’s development, which includes limiting access to some content in books.

The word censorship should be reserved for places it truly belongs, such as acts by the government or by government intermediaries (public schools) to forbid all access to a certain work. It’s not censorship, however, if the government knocks a controversial book off the required reading list for a school and yet keeps that book in the school’s library. That’s curating. That’s using literary judgment (even though it’s occasionally a skewed judgment).

Anyone from a repressive country would recognize the loose way we fling around “censorship” and laugh. As if losing the ability to discuss a work in English class truly qualifies as censorship. As if students couldn’t go to the library or read it on a Kindle or find it online. By using the word censorship so broadly, its power is neutered.

End note: To see me reacting against censors, read my apologia against censorship back in 2009.

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