THE BLOG
03/31/2016 02:18 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2017

'Goodnight Moon' and Book Banning in America

Goodnight Moon, is one of the classic children's books read to millions of toddlers, along with Dr. Seuss and Clifford the Red Dog. That's the baby step. Next your toddler grows into a child, goes off to school, and is exposed to more wonderful literature like The Giving Tree, and Harold and The Purple Crayon.

So far so good.

Your child gets bigger and goes to middle school where beautiful books come along like The Old Man and the Sea by Hemmingway, A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

Then comes high school where the adolescent reader's universe expands with Pulitzer Prize-winning literature like Toni Morrison's Beloved, or The Bluest Eye, or James Baldwin books or Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man or The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

STOP.

Get this. Lawmakers in Virginia want to become the first state in the country to allow parents to block their children from reading certain books in school

The education police are coming. First Virginia's General Assembly passed a bill (HB516) this year that says that teachers must have permission forms from parents before students are allowed to read certain books. Now lawmakers in Virginia want to allow parents to block their children from reading books in school that contain sexually explicit material. Under the new bill, K through 12 teachers would need to identify classroom materials with "sexually explicit content" and notify parents who may request something "less objectionable."

After being debated by lawmakers in Richmond the bill was approved in a Senate committee and now goes to a full Senate vote. It could land on the desk of Governor Terry McAuliffe soon. Under the proposed legislation, it would be up to the state Board of Education to write guidelines, including the delicate task of defining "sexually explicit materials" for local school districts. That means that some conservative dad or sexually illiterate mom or ultra-right school board official can deem a book "inappropriate" for a teenager. (A teenager will simply borrow the book from a friend who is allowed to read it!) Or hide in a closet and read it.
Is America that prudish and repressed that we can't discuss sex? Are we now going down the path to book banning?

Since when has banning a book every made someone avoid reading it? To the contrary, it makes the book more exciting to get hold of.

Local control over curriculum and schools is a major issue in the presidential election. Candidates talk about getting rid of the Department of Education and turning everything back to parental and school control. Many of us support empowered parents and empowered local school boards. But there is a tipping point beyond which sense goes out the window, along with books and basic rights of expression, let alone the right to read.

At a time when the internet and the digital world are far more frightening and alluring than literature, let's not shut out books. A morality police is not the answer to raising smarter and more compassionate children.

If we want our young people to be good global citizens, able to compete in the world, and deliver value to their communities and themselves, let them live in an open society. If you don't like certain passages in a book, tell your children why and debate the content. If you think sex is off-limits in literature, explain your rationale.

Don't turn out the lights and shut the blinds. Let literature in. That's the lesson of "Goodnight Moon."

Tara Sonenshine is former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.