This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, April 4, 2001

April 4, 2001 - National Library Week & Freethinking

My grandfather was, I now realize, a Freethinker. The American Heritage Dictionary defines the term as follows: "one who has rejected authority and dogma, especially in his religious thinking, in favor of rational inquiry and speculation."

Granddad's favorite period in history was the American Revolution, and his favorite person in that period was Thomas Paine, author of "Common Sense," and "The Age of Reason." I recommend both of these books, by the way — Paine still has the power to infuriate and challenge, way more than any newspaper columnist today.

When I was a kid, I knew Granddad was pretty smart, mostly because he read all the time. He had dropped out of 10th grade to support his mother, but he had almost read his way to a law school correspondence degree when the Depression hit. After that, this time in order to support his family, he drove a pastry truck. Later, he went into politics and sales (if there's a difference between them). But he read constantly.

Granddad was the guy who told me, "Education isn't something that's done to you; it's something you do for yourself."

I also admired him because he was absolutely fearless in groups. While I was spending the summer with him, I saw a notice in the paper about a meeting of the John Birch Society, and asked what that was about. I was 11 or 12. "Let's go!" he said.

Well, the Birchers were an extremely agitated bunch. I can't say as I really followed all the talk, but there were an unusually high number of nail biters in the crowd. They struck me as worried and whiny.

Granddad sat there, his eyes twinkling. Then he whispered to me, "Watch this. I'll ask them a question, and you'll see them squirm." So he stood up, and in his rich, deep, marvelous voice, asked a question. I believe it was about the income tax. And sure enough, the main speaker reddened and looked discomfited.

As I say, I was really too young to follow the issues, but I got a very clear read on the social dynamics. Granddad was known to them, respected, but also feared. His grasp was a little too penetrating, his frequent questions a little too focused on issues that the speakers clearly didn't want to tackle in public. Yet when folks shot challenges back at him, you could see the relish Granddad took in the exchange.

I had seen him, many times, argue one side of an issue with one person then argue the other side with another — each time with equal passion and clarity. When I'd say, "But Granddad, what do you REALLY believe?" he would say, "What do YOU believe?" then make me defend it.

In part, Granddad felt like a kindred spirit to me as I was coming of age. "Question authority" was the slogan not only of librarians in general, but of the Boomer generation.

At the same time, Granddad was a loyal party man, a man who even on his days off, wore a suit. He wore a suit when he mowed the lawn. If he was a rebel, it was only in his ideas, not in the way he lived.

These days, so much in politics is foolish grandstanding, unprincipled posturing, and kowtowing to cash. So many of our leaders—political, religious, and intellectual—wallow in hypocrisy. But when I get complaints about the books in libraries — and I do get them — it's never about any of that.

Most often, grown-ups are protesting classic fairy tales, and the fear that children might somehow get the impression that the world isn't always a nice place.

I think, in the long run, it's best to have children get a real glimpse of just how complex life is, to read about different cultures and perspectives and problems, to introduce even young people to the principles of free inquiry and self-examination.

Of course, the examined life can be scary. You might have to revise your prejudices. You might even have to confront those of your parents.

But that's the message of this week, National Library Week, as it happens. Be brave enough to read.

Free your mind—@ the library.

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