Commentary: Before banning a book, read it

This week a suburban Springfield-area school board bowed to the book banners after a yearlong fight that gained national notice.

And so it goes, Kurt Vonnegut might have said.

By a vote of 4-0, the Republic Board of Education yanked Vonnegut’s anti-war classic “Slaughterhouse-Five” and another novel from the high school curriculum and library.

As a kid, I read just about every thing Vonnegut wrote. So were he still alive, I imagine the author would be rolling his eyes at the thought that his 1969 book about young men dying for a cause they couldn’t fathom — its subtitle is “The Children’s Crusade” — was deemed unfit for young eyes in 2011.

Republic isn’t alone. While some Kansas City-area districts have the book in their curriculum, “Slaughterhouse-Five” is a fixture on the most-banned books list of the American Library Association.

One of the first to ban it was a North Dakota school district that, in 1973, gathered up its 32 copies and fed them to the coal furnace.

Vonnegut was outraged, but surely appreciated the irony of burning a book whose narrative centers on the allied firebombing of Dresden during World War II.

“Slaughterhouse-Five” is also about time travel, space aliens and, well, if you haven’t read the book, get with it, Billy Pilgrim. Though I doubt it will take much coaxing for Republic High School students to pick up a copy now.

Mark Twain equated book banning to the temptation of Adam: “He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.”

Of course, Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is also on the most-banned books list, and what a great educational resource it is for parents having trouble getting their kids to read.

The list, I mean. Simply forbid your high schooler from reading the likes of J.D Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and other classics on it. Next thing you know, they’ll be reading under the covers at night with a flashlight.

I can’t speak for the other book banned in Republic on Monday night, “Twenty Boy Summer” by Sarah Ockler, because I go by a higher standard than most book banners.

I read them before pronouncing judgment, rather than rely on a group like Parents Against Bad Books in School to guide me to “the dirty parts.”

However, what Superintendent Vern Minor said about “Slaughterhouse-Five” is true.

“The language is really, really intense,” he told the Springfield News-Leader.

But take it from a parent of a 16-year-old. You’ll hear worse on your kid’s iPod.

Though maybe the kids are more pure in Republic.