The last week of September is Banned Books week, when the literary community reflects on the idea of censorship and celebrates the virtue of books that have been banned in the past. Banned books are books that have made unavailable to students because of their content by, a group of people, usually school administration or concerned parents.
Of course, some books have intense adult themes and profanity, and that’s legitimate a reason for some parents not to want their kids to read a book, but when they get the school districts involved and it becomes a banned book, it becomes everybody’s problem.
The first amendment is the is a major conflict when it comes to censorship: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; …”. But when it comes to books, many of them are censored from students around the country. The Harry Potter series, for example is one of the most challenged books because of its demonstrations of witchcraft. Many people, Potterheads especially, would find that absurd, and find the idea of growing up without Harry Potter hard/terrifying, but in Santa Fe, Texas, students are not allowed to read the Harry Potter series freely.
Several books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part- Time Indian and The Color Purple have been banned for “racial themes”. Ironically, most of the times a book is banned for racial themes, they are deemed offensive by people who aren’t a member of the race being discriminated against in the book. To Kill a Mockingbird has been banned time and time again for racism, even though anyone who reads the book will tell you was that the central message of the story was that racism is immoral. That brings us to another problem with book banning: censorship advocates seem to overlook the idea that part of developing strong morals is understanding both sides of the story. Sure, people were and still are racist, but to decide where a person stands on racism, they have to understand what it actually means to hate other races. Adults can’t go to a classroom and say “racism is bad kids” and expect them to fully understand the magnitude of the issue. One of the best ways to learn about the issues through reading about them. Similar reasons for banning include the use of the N-word, which is actually important in society today. The N word is used regularly in society, in songs, in graffiti, even in conversation. Growing up now, kids might not even understand that it’s a hate word. But every kid who read To Kill a Mockingbird does. Censoring books for racial issues will not make them go away. If things like that aren’t talked about, then they become the norm.
Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm were both continuously banned for going against societal norms and the government. But how is the next generation supposed to change the world without knowing or thinking anything different? There are so many world problems out there that the adults haven’t been able to solve. How are we supposed to solve them for ourselves when we’re taught to think exactly like the adults who created the problem?
Other books are banned for “deviant” lifestyles, such as those of the LGBT+ community, drug users, and gang members. The issue with that is, what’s deviant here may not be considered deviant in other places. By banning books for displaying deviant lifestyles, censors close the minds of students to the experiences of others. S.E. Hinton’s book The Outsiders is frequently challenged and banned because the main characters are gang members who participate in gang activity. Go Ask Alice is the most frequently banned book in high school libraries because the characters participate in drug usage. However, the way the books are written, no one with a clear interpretation would ever want to join a gang or take drugs, as in both cases, things end horribly for the main characters. If anything, those books are to show kids what it’s like for other people and to be lucky for what they have. When kids read about the struggles of others, they think “maybe I’m not the only person in the universe”, which, paradoxically, is one of the main things adults say teenagers should do. But if we’re only allowed to read books about kids just like us whose main problem in life is who they’re going to homecoming with, what should inspire us to think broader?
In Alabama, The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank, was banned for being too depressing. Of course it’s depressing; a girl hid from Nazi’s for two years and then SPOILER ALERT, was found and killed. Even through all that, Anne managed to write, “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy,” in her diary. Terrible, depressing things have happened throughout history, and if high school students don’t learn about them, they won’t do anything to stop the injustices and genocides that are still happening all over the world today.
My personal favorite book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is one of the most challenged books of all time. It is frequently criticized for displays of drugs, smoking, sex, drugs, abuse, alcohol and homosexuality. The author of the book, Stephen Chbosky, never expected his book to be received this way, and he talks about it in an interview for My Record Journal.
“The entire book is a blueprint for survival. It’s for people who have been through terrible things and need hope and support,” Chbosky explained. “The idea of taking two pages out of context and creating an atmosphere as perverse is offensive to me — deeply offensive.”
I didn’t know all this when I found The Perks Of Being a Wallflower in sixth grade. All I knew was that when I read it, I felt like someone understood how I was feeling. The story made me feel for the characters, especially Charlie, the main character, in a real way, more deeply than any book characters before. His little observations about life made me think about what it actually means to be present and alive. The sex, drugs, abuse, etc. made the story authentic, because those are all real issues, and we all have real life problems. Censoring books that feature them won’t make them go away.
As time moves forward, standards for what is appropriate for kids to read change. Of Mice and Men, 1984 , The Catcher in the Rye , A Brave New World and The Outsiders are some of the most banned books in history, yet all are taught in Fulton County schools today. People’s thinking is evolving, which is great, but forward thinking people who read these books in the past were punished, and people in the past didn’t get to read those books got cheated out of an experience that many people, our school system included, now think to be valuable. Censorship is unfair to the next generation, as it permits us to grow up with closed minds to the many possibilities of the world. The responsibility of the school system is to teach us HOW to think, not WHAT to think. If they don’t give us the freedom to chose what to read, they aren’t fulfilling that.
I’m going to take advantage of my freedom to read what I want by rereading The Perks of Being A Wallflower for the trillionth time. To see what books are currently being challenged in the U.S., check out http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks
Photo Credits Cards Unlimited