Book banning: fostering communities of ignorance

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A collection of books stands with a label that connotes them as being banned.

Lily Ha, Assistant Editor-in-Chief

Preventing books from reaching the eyes of children has recently emerged as a national issue in the United States.

According to the American Library Association (ALA)’s report, in the fall of 2021, there were 330 cases of book challenges that sought to remove particular books from libraries or school curriculums. In particular, according to NBC, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin of Texas, there were 75 formal requests for book banning at the school districts in the first four months of the 2021-2022 school year. This is a surprising hike from one request at the same period of the previous year. In one of many articles by The New York Times, Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of PEN America, stated that  “it’s a pretty startling phenomenon here in the United States to see book bans back in style, to see efforts to press criminal charges against school librarians”. Book banning is being led by parents, community activists and lawmakers. The New York Times described these book banning efforts as “a pace not seen in decades.”

The current attempts for book banning are unprecedented. A growing number of people are inserting complaints to libraries and schools that certain books should be removed from shelves because they are inappropriate for children. This trend reflects people’s increasing grievances toward the descriptions of gender, race, sexuality, pornography, history and ideologies in books. Among the top 10 most challenged books tracked by the ALA, are “George,” “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” “All American Boys,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Of Mice and Men” and “The Bluest Eye.”

On one hand, citizens should be able to act on their concerns by mounting “book challenges.” Free expressions are the basis of democracies, and thus, book challenges might be perceived as the rights of citizens as members of communities. On the other hand, these book challenges can lead to “book burning” which is a form of censorship. Individuals, politicians and organizations seek to eliminate books from libraries, school reading lists and bookstore shelves because they object to their content, characters, ideas and themes. The opponents of book banning emphasize that book banning violates the First Amendment rights of speech and press.

In October of 2021, Texas State Representative, Matt Krause, put 850 books on a watch list, many dealing with race and LGBTQ issues. For the first 100 books on the list, 97 were written by ethnic minorities, women and LGBTQ authors. According to NPR, he claimed that the books on his list “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex” . In early February, the Indiana Senate passed a bill to remove obscene materials from schools. This bill allows “the criminal prosecution of school librarians and other school staff for disseminating ‘material harmful to minors,’” as stated by The Center Square. The Oklahoma legislature is also discussing a bill that would ban public school libraries from offering any books on sexuality or gender identity. In Tennessee, on January 10, the McMinn County School Board removed “Maus,” a graphic novel about the Holocaust, from an eighth-grade curriculum due to the issues of nudity and curse expressions.

Students might feel offended if their favorite books are on the banned list. They may consider the trend of book bans as personal attacks on their race, gender and sexuality. The contents of books are all related to broader topics, such as freedom, human rights, equality and dignity. Some books may portray offensive and troubling topics; however, they reveal the truth of human identities and social structure. Additionally, other books are on the list because they deal with issues or themes that powerful people do not agree with and do not want a large audience to continue to read. Students have their knowledge and experiences on race, LGBTQ and gender that are dealt with and seen on the news every day. Blocking books due to the repugnance of certain opinions or ideologies will not stop students from reading or ever reaching information on such literature.

Many banned books continue to be read in classrooms as school-assigned readings. A large number of students have been inspired and empowered by books, such as “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “Of Mice and Men,” “The Outsiders,” “Catcher in the Rye” and “1984.” Specifically, “Animal Farm,” a 1985 novel by George Orwell. It is an allegory about communism. Napoleon, who is considered the main antagonist of the book, represents Joseph Stalin, while old Major refers to Karl Marx, known to be the founder of communism. This book is quite famous and critically acclaimed for its satire. Before the book was even published, it was rejected several times by publishers, as it was written during the UK’s wartime alliance with the Soviet Union. It was also temporarily banned in the UAE because of its talking pigs, seen to be against Islamic values.

The books on a watch list are an important part of understanding different perspectives and historical events that have shaped us into who we are. Supporters of book bans do not agree with some parts of the literature. However, they should never be allowed to have the power to remove some books from either a library or school which are castles of knowledge and education. ​​Neuqua sophomore Elicia Desmaratti pointed out, “Honestly, with what’s happening in Texas and Florida, I’m leaning towards what books shouldn’t be banned just because school is a learning environment. They are not supposed to be comfortable or inoffensive. When people try to filter out the ‘bad’ literature by banning books, they are fostering communities of ignorance.”

Book banning has been going on at schools and libraries for a very long time, but its criticisms may have to do with the enforcement of political or religious viewpoints rather than for the betterment of students and their sensitivity to controversial issues. Students should have the right to choose whether to read certain books. Overall, the politicization of books should be minimized, and there should be more consideration of the importance of free thought and expression.