At this point in your life, chances are you’ve had to read American classics like “1984” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Although many high schools require their students to read these books, others have banned them from being read or carried by their students. In our technologically advanced world, information is available with just a few taps. So why are we still limiting the education of our nation’s youth by banning books?
Since they’ve existed, books have been challenged, banned and destroyed by those who’ve sought to control access to them. In America, having a book banned locally means more than forbidding its possession or distribution in that area. It can also permit the postal service to limit shipments of that book within the country, an action made legal by the Comstock Act, said Mike Hennessey, an educator assistant professor in UC’s English Department.
“Beyond governmental or civic authorities banning books, there's also a long history of religious organizations imposing similar limitations, like the Vatican's Index Librorum Prohibitorum [a list of publications deemed heretical or contrary to morality that Catholics were forbidden from reading], which existed for more than 400 years and only ended in the mid-1960s,” Hennessey said. “It might even take the form of individuals stealing, hiding, or throwing out copies of books from libraries so that others can't have access to them.”
This was the case recently in Iowa, where a man burned four LGBTQ themed children’s books because they conflicted with the beliefs of the religious group he was affiliated with, according to nwestiowa.com and the American Library Association (ALA). The ALA is the oldest and largest library association in the world and promotes library and library education at an international level. This nonprofit organization regularly updates its list of challenged and banned books, with genres ranging from children to classics.
According to the ALA, numerous books in the “Captain Underpants” series have been challenged for encouraging disruptive behavior, violence and depicting a same-sex couple. While classics like “Slaughterhouse Five,” “Of Mice and Men,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Catcher in the Rye” have accumulated dozens of challenges and bannings for an even greater number of reasons. While these allegations seem outlandish to the greater population, it doesn’t take much of an uproar for school boards to ban even the most harmless of books. Even modern authors like J.K. Rowling and John Green have had their books challenged for various reasons.
Shelby Hatton — a second-year UC student studying Neuroscience and Biology — went to a Catholic elementary school, where “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Catcher in the Rye” were banned because school officials didn’t think that they were appropriate for children.
“Most people think books should be banned because of the content,” Hatton said. “But that's the real world. The world can be ugly and harsh and that is knowledge that shouldn't be hidden to children but taught to them so that they may be prepared.”
This outlook is shared by second-year Psychology student Kaylor Gause, who said banning books may cause children less inclined to read to never experience that author’s art. Students who aren’t allowed to read certain books – especially those with heavier themes – would also miss out on the life lessons that those books touche on, making them further unprepared for the real world.
“Reading opens mental doors,” Gause said. “Even if it is fiction, you see the world through a different perspective with every book you read, which helps you be more sensitive or open minded in the real world.”
Though Hennessey disagrees with an external authority banning books, he does acknowledge that some books are inappropriate for children. This, he said, is where parents need to make individual decisions about what their child can and can’t handle.
There has been a recent trend of challenging books that have any trace of LGBTQ content, said Hennessey. Incidents similar to the book burning in Iowa can make it harder for children and teens struggling with their sexual orientation to find book characters facing the same issues as them. A connection that can save lives, said Hennessey.
“I also think we sell kids short in terms of what they already know and what they can handle,” Hennessey said. “Books are frequently challenged for things like profanity, drugs and alcohol, or sexual content, as if the mere presence of such things would destroy their character. Frankly, I think there are far more offensive and detrimental things to be found on the nightly news than in most of the books that have faced bans.”
We’re two months into 2020, and at this point our future citizens’ educations shouldn’t be limited to what a disengaged schoolboard or some easily offended parents feels is appropriate.