As adults, sometimes it is our responsibility to determine what is best for children who aren’t yet able to make important decisions for themselves. This is true in parenting, teaching and any other role in which children are under our care. However, there must always be a line drawn between lending a guiding hand and forcing students down a path that they didn’t choose. Banning books in schools falls on the latter side of this educational division, often bringing bad press to the school and only increasing students’ desire to read the book in question.
Most books that get banned in schools feature some thematic material, language or content that is deemed objectionable by the relevant school boards. Different areas of the country also judge books in different ways, ranging from “inappropriate” sexual content in Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to book series like Harry Potter that are suspected of promoting witchcraft. Despite these varied objections, most bans are eventually overturned, either by the administration or government (in some cases, even The Supreme Court).
Banning a book may often seem like a good idea to parents who don’t want their children exposed to potentially mature or thought-provoking books, but evidence suggests that a banned book only becomes more popular than ever. Besides flying in the face of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of press, attempting to ban a book like Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut only focuses attention on the material that seems objectionable (and sometimes makes copies more available to students than ever). There are hundreds of novels that have potentially objectionable themes and dialogue, but attempting to ignore their existence seems, in my opinion, to be a poor attempt at burying our heads in the sand and hoping the issues simply go away.
I believe that reading is one of the most important learning activities for students of all ages, and the more challenging the subject matter is, the better. There is obviously a fine line between books that encourage critical thinking (Brave New World) and books that are outright racist or overtly offensive (Mein Kampf), but all too often it seems schools would rather eliminate the texts that raise tough questions. Giving relevant reading material to appropriate age groups is important for teachers and librarians, but not as important as helping students comprehend the themes and meaning behind the words. In my view, institutional censorship should never occur; the decision on what kids are allowed to read should be left up to parents and guardians.
To read a list of traditionally banned books, check out the American Library Association.
Has your school ever banned a book? What are your thoughts on the subject? Tell us below.