Book Bans, From Both the Left and the Right

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  • German Car Companies and ‘the Stench of Nazi Atrocities’
  • A Bill to Help Close the Pay Gap for Mothers

Credit…Allie Sullberg

To the Editor:

Re “Let’s Stop Arguing About the Bans and Start Arguing About the Books,” by Sungjoo Yoon (Opinion guest essay, April 21):

I want to applaud Mr. Yoon’s thoughtful essay, which I shared with many fellow Black parents to emphasize that the negative impact of book bans goes both ways. We should not ban books because of our personal, knee-jerk reactions to words or styles of speech or situations that embarrass us or make us feel bad, regardless of the actual content and messages of those books, any more than Toni Morrison should be banned because she makes white parents “feel bad.”

I was never once embarrassed by “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as a young student or otherwise. Both books have opened countless minds for the better, like that of the student who wrote this piece. I learned from excellent teachers and from my Black parents that words were not the enemy to my self-esteem, especially when contained in books that were doing the opposite of spreading messages of hate and division.

Many Black parents like me support and will vocally advocate on behalf of this thoughtful student’s efforts.

Ginger McKnight-Chavers
Bronxville, N.Y.

To the Editor:

I commend Sungjoo Yoon for his nuanced recognition that “there is some value in restricting curriculum to children when those decisions are informed by a knowledge of the books and the capacities of the students.” He writes that he was deeply disturbed by reading “The Rape of Nanking” at too young an age, then ascribes the removal of classics like “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”and “To Kill a Mockingbird” from the curriculum in his own district and elsewhere to “hyperpartisanship.”

That belittles the painful experiences of students and their families, as well as the judgment of many educators themselves, whose concerns about teaching these books are indeed based on a rigorous examination of their content.

Andrew Newman
The writer is chair of the English department at Stony Brook University.

To the Editor:

I applaud Sungjoo Yoon’s thoughtful remarks about actually discussing the merits of books and broadening required reading lists. I’d like to point out that there is a difference between book banning and taking books off the mandatory reading list.

Making books no longer mandatory seems like an opening, not a closing. It is high time that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is no longer required reading. It is a white savior relic to be applauded, perhaps, as courageous in its time, but it needs to be replaced on the mandatory list.

I am not advocating banning this book. Educators who take a good look at reading requirements and update curriculum are practicing responsible and responsive education. Sungjoo Yoon’s suggestion about discussing books’ merits must lie in that context.

Kerry Reynolds
The writer is a retired high school English teacher.

To the Editor:

Thank you to Sungjoo Yoon for reminding his elders of the value of great literature. Those silly parents, in projecting their fears and aversions onto their kids, forget that they are providing them reading lists. Some bookstores are even creating banned book displays.

I wish it had been that easy for me to obtain “The Catcher in the Rye” when I was 10.

Jennifer Choate
Santa Cruz, Calif.

To the Editor:

Sungjoo Yoon’s intelligent and well-crafted essay gives me hope that today’s youth will solve the many problems left to them by my generation (boomer) and my parents’ generation.

However, to make possible Mr. Yoon’s desire that adults abandon hyperpartisanship in favor of “rigorous conversations about the content and value of the books themselves,” then the adults will actually have to read these books and engage in the kind of critical thinking being taught at his school.

Bobby Hickey
Portland, Ore.

To the Editor:

I was impressed with this high school student’s deep understanding of the conflicting ideas around what constitutes “appropriate reading” for students in classrooms today. I spent much of my career as a public school teacher introducing children and teenage readers to the very same books he mentioned.

Great fiction, from illustrated children’s books to young adult novels, lays bare our emotions and draws upon our desire to empathize with the lives of characters who fight against injustice, form loving bonds against all odds, and suffer hurts that we may have suffered ourselves. In other words, the best authors will sometimes cause students discomfort, even emotional grief, as well as joy and surprise.

Eliminating books from required reading lists will only deprive students of this rich emotional experience.

Paul Bodin
Eugene, Ore.

German Car Companies and ‘the Stench of Nazi Atrocities’

Credit…Matt Chase

To the Editor:

“The Heirs of Nazi Fortunes,” by David de Jong (Opinion guest essay, Sunday Review, April 24), evoked painful memories.

Porsche, Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen are Germany’s economic strength. The same German industrial ingenuity also created the efficient death machines that were the engines of the Holocaust. Unfortunately these companies spend millions on branding and less money on discussing their roots, as your article points out.

I have avoided purchasing any German cars because these corporations trace their success directly back to the Nazis. I visited Germany seven years ago and was touched by the commemorative plaques in the streets with the names and birth and death dates of the Nazis’ victims. They are spread throughout the cities and remote villages, showing how boundless the Nazis’ hatred of Jews was.

The billionaire families celebrate business success, but it must still matter that they acknowledge their ancestors’ crimes against humanity. Six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust require it.

Steven A. Ludsin
East Hampton, N.Y.
The writer was a member of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust and the first U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

To the Editor:

David de Jong’s article about the patriarchs of the German automobile industry was eye-opening and disturbing. The families of these men have apparently swept their Nazi history very far under the rug and hope that with all the years that have passed the stench of Nazi atrocities in their industry will vanish.

Sadly, they may be right.

Gail Davis
Santa Cruz, Calif.

A Bill to Help Close the Pay Gap for Mothers

To the Editor:

“Where in California Do Women Under 30 Earn More Than Men?” (California Today newsletter,, April 15) rightly celebrates the closing of the gender wage gap for women under 30 in large California cities. The article credits several factors, including women’s growing college graduation rates. But the single most important factor driving the gender pay gap, which also explains age and geographic differences, has been overlooked: motherhood.

Bias against mothers is the strongest form of gender bias against women, and motherhood is a far greater predictor of wage inequality than gender alone. Why are younger, college-educated women in large coastal cities paid equally to men? Because they largely don’t have children. Compared with their identical childless peers, mothers are less likely to be hired, offered lower starting salaries, and less likely to be promoted.

Shockingly, it is not already illegal in California to discriminate against mothers. A bill introduced in the California State Assembly by Buffy Wicks — A.B. 2182 — would change that. As Mother’s Day approaches, let us mothers ask for more than flowers and chocolates.

Liz Morris
San Francisco
The writer is the deputy director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings Law.

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