For a while now there’s been increasing rumblings of a vaccination controversy. Apparently this is coming more to the fore-front as Newsweek saw fit to publish an article arguing for the benefits of vaccinating your children. I know to some of my friends and colleagues in the healthcare community, this anti-vaccination movement seems to be coming nearly out of thin air in the last few years. They are confused as to why any parent would argue against vaccinating their child in a Western nation. While I absolutely agree with them, this didn’t exactly come out of nowhere for me. Until I started working in hospitals, I myself wasn’t vaccinated. *
My parents, mainly my mother, were part of the first wave of the anti-vaccination crowd. Their reasons for not wanting me to get vaccinated were officially religious. They believed that your body is the temple of the living god, and therefore you should not purposefully inject anything harmful into yourself. To them, even though a vaccination is a gentled-up version of the virus, it was still perceived as injecting harm. In the fundamentalist crowd the leap to “this lighter version of the virus will allow my child to build antibodies so the strong one won’t harm her” just wasn’t made. I’m not sure if they didn’t believe the science, didn’t understand it, or just didn’t think it was necessary. Whatever the case, a vaccine was injecting a virus into your body, and that was wrong in the eyes of god so that was that.
Of course there was the other layer thatnon-fundamentalist parents who are anti-vaccination today are also claiming today–the contents of the shot are harmful and at best dumb the kid down, at worst give them Autism or paralyzes them. Frankly, if this was true, we’d have an epidemic of Autism and paralysis right now. We obviously don’t. Most of my public school graduating class was vaccinated, and they were the most intelligent graduating class from my school in ten years, with a record number attending high-ranking colleges.
Even after I had deconverted, thereby losing the religious concern, I still for a long time believed that vaccinations were a big government conspiracy. We’re seeing this concept now with the H1N1 vaccinations. There are groups out there saying at best that the pharmaceutical community created the virus so they could profit from the vaccine and at worst that the vaccine will kill or maim all the poor people (or a certain race of people or whatever group the person making the claim is part of).
I know from my own experience that these claims are being made out of fear and ignorance. People who don’t understand science, were never properly taught science, or who were raised to fear outsiders make claims like this. Any educated person knows that the scientific community works incredibly hard for the greater good. What an insult to the scientists who worked to make the H1N1 vaccine to claim that they maliciously created the virus just so they could sell a vaccine! Claims like this about vaccinations are the same as claiming that the scientific community is evil–a community that works hard every day for the greater good of individuals and society as a whole. Frankly, yes, I believe the government is messed up in many ways, but one of the things they do right is to support the scientific community, yet these paranoid groups see this support as a conspiracy. The scientific community is not the government, and just because the government endorses something the scientific community is doing does not make it evil.
What we are seeing building today is the result of a failing educational system and increasing paranoia. Our society is by and large encouraing paranoia and panic at an increasing rate. You just have to remember America before 9/11 and after 9/11 to know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m not going to be all conspiracy theorist about this, but our society is increasingly uneducated and afraid. Instead of seeking to raise calm, rational, scientific individuals we’re turning into a bunch of paranoid, uneducated, panicking people making bad decisions for the future. Knowledge and logic impart calm and peace. I know this from personal experience. When I thought that schizophrenic symptoms were caused by demon possession, I walked around afraid. When I learned the biological basis of schizophrenia and the treatments available, I was no longer afraid. The same is true for the vaccination paranoia. It is a symptom of a lack of general public knowledge about science. They are wrong, but there is no quick fix for this. The answer is an educated, rational populace, and that is going to take time and effort.
* My father claims he snuck me off to get one round of vaccinations when I was a child. I don’t remember this, however, and we all know there’s more than one round of childhood vaccinations.
Banned Books Week, the ALA’s yearly anti-censorship awareness campaign, starts tomorrow. I hadn’t really thought much about it or paid much attention to it as I work in a special library. We don’t exactly do the sorts of themes that public libraries do. My GoogleReader had an opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal that raised quite a few relevant issues with the theme that I hadn’t thought about before.
Muncy points out that traditionally censorship is seen as the government prohibiting their citizens from possessing or gaining access to something within the borders of that country. China’s censorship of the internet is called to mind. He then points out that public libraries are technically branches of the government. In addition he points out that most of the “banned books” being celebrated this week have in fact only been challenged by patrons, usually patrons concerned about their children reading/viewing these materials.
You know those moments when you suddenly realize you’ve been indoctrinated into believing something that doesn’t make sense? Reading this article gave me one of those moments. Muncy is completely right. When was the last time the US government–any branch of it–banned a book from being in the United States? Um….I can’t even think of a single time in the last one hundred years at least.
Don’t patrons have a right to express their opinion regarding library holdings? It doesn’t mean librarians have to acquiesce to these opinions, but shouldn’t patrons have the right to express them? Aren’t librarians supposed to cater to their community? Clearly if only one patron doesn’t want a book in the holdings but many others do, we shouldn’t remove the book, but what would be the harm in putting some sort of parental warning sticker on the book? The parent could tell the kid “don’t read books with that sticker,” then it’d be up to the kid to be obedient. Like it or not parents actually do have the right to censor what their kids are exposed to. Would any librarian complain about a parent preventing a child from viewing porn? No. So why do we get all upset when a parent doesn’t want their child reading a book that has the n-word or that has a gay couple in it? It may go against our politics, but our politics are not supposed to come into play when doing our job. We are here to serve our patrons whether we agree with their political opinions and manner of raising their child (within the confines of the law of course) or not.
Muncy is right. Banned Books Week highlights censorship where there really isn’t any. Why couldn’t Banned Books Week highlight actual censorship worldwide? Books that have actually been banned by various governments, for instance. For that matter, why couldn’t we have a Controversial Books Week? That could show how powerful books can be ala the pen is mightier than the sword. Books such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin that stir massively strong feelings in people would be such a wonderful tool for opening up dialogue.
Of course I am against censorship, but patrons voicing concerns about holdings isn’t censorship. It’s their right as a public government-funded public libraries serve.
There is a distinct socioeconomic difference between two parts of the MBTA system: the commuter rail and the bus. The commuter rail consists mostly of middle to upper class, white collar, white Americans. The bus is, well, everyone else. Suffice it to say, when I ride the bus, which is often, I’m generally in the statistical minority. In fact, the other night I was the only white person on an almost full bus, as well as the only woman besides the bus driver. I’m perfectly comfortable riding both, although I must admit, I generally get better stories from riding the bus. The other night I overheard a hooker planning out her evening on her cell phone. I digress, back to my point. I can’t help but notice some distinct differences between the two groups of riders.
When I commute from my abode in the morning, I take the commuter rail. When I commute from my man’s abode, I take the bus system. Every morning that I take the commuter rail, there is a white teenage boy on my train car. He’s probably about 15, clearly on his way to some sort of prep school. His mother makes him wait in her car with her until the train is pulling up, then she waits to pull away until he is on the train. He’s often pushy to the other passengers, never respectful to older men and women.
Every morning that I ride the bus, I wind up waiting for a bus connection. A black boy, who’s probably about 8 years old, almost always is waiting with me. He’s got his backpack on and breakfast in one hand. I’m not entirely certain why he’s taking public transit instead of the school bus to school, but there you have it. He waits for the bus alone. He rides the bus alone. He hits the stop request tape himself to make sure the bus driver stops at his stop. He often reads a magazine on the bus and is always quiet and respectful.
Clearly, whoever the 8 year old’s mother is, she trusts him to get his own butt to school in the morning and to do it safely. She (or somebody) taught him how to be respectful in public. Conversely, the 15 year old’s mother doesn’t trust him to get to the train himself, or even to get on it in the morning. She’s probably tried to teach him to be respectful in public, but the lesson clearly hasn’t sunk in.
An 8 year old is behaving more maturely than a 15 year old. I can’t help but think that people rise to the expectations you put out. Now, maybe the 15 year old’s mother tried to give him more responsibility, and he failed so she feels she can’t trust him anymore. I seriously doubt it though. What I’ve seen among the middle to upper-class in Boston is a distinct overprotection that leads to a lack of maturity among their children. Mommy and daddy might think they’re protecting their kids by always having an adult there every second of the day watching, but what that really communicates to the kid is “Mom and Dad don’t trust me,” and “If they don’t think I can handle this on my own, I must not be able to.”
I know some people are probably upset reading about an 8 year old taking the transit system alone. However, it’s the morning commute. It’s not like it’s 10pm at night or something. Nobody can protect someone else perfectly. Random bad shit happens to kids; it’s a fact of life. Isn’t it better to teach kids to be self-reliant? The 8 year old’s mother has clearly taught him valuable life skills. He can handle getting himself places without her help. Imagine how much more confident he’ll be when it comes to things like choosing a college in the future. Since his mother trusts him, he trusts himself. I doubt the 15 year old will take any agency in such important life decisions. If he can’t be trusted to do something as simple as his morning commute on his own, how could he possibly make more important decisions on his own?
I know there’s some risk involved in the 8 year old commuting on his own, but I firmly believe that the overall life lesson he’s getting far outweighs any risk. People don’t grow, mature, or self-actualize if they’re never challenged. If life is rosy and easy, there’s no reason to. When these middle to upper-class parents think they’re protecting their kids, they’re really sabotaging their future. It’s too bad they can’t see it.