Ban Book Banning
Issue 15, Volume 112
By Ashley Lin
In sixth grade, my teacher handed me a book whose beige cover featured two mice and a swastika in the background. The title, “Maus,” was bold and in red. It was a graphic novel on the Holocaust, depicting the author’s father’s experiences as a Polish Jew and a Holocaust survivor.
Now, “Maus” is one of over 1,100 books that have been banned over the last nine months in 86 school districts of 26 states. These districts are composed of around 3,000 schools, with a combined enrollment of over two million students.
The topics these books discuss are necessary to be taught. In Oklahoma, the State Senate introduced a bill that would ban books concerning sexual activity, sexual identity, or gender identity from school libraries. These topics should be taught to children instead of rejected, since children are bound to experience them in real life. In California, the Burbank Unified School District voted to remove five classic novels, from “To Kill A Mockingbird” to “The Cay,” from mandatory reading lists. Both of these books touch on race and racial injustice. By restricting youth’s access to these novels, the district has further diminished the experiences of those who are already rarely represented in literature. In Texas, the Katy Independent School District has banned over nine books related to sexuality and LGBTQ+ romance. It’s critical for youth to be exposed to these topics because they allow for an expanded worldview and a deeper understanding of social issues.
Four hundred sixty-seven of the banned books in the Index of School Book Bans conducted by PEN America include protagonists or secondary characters who are people of color. Two hundred forty-seven touch on race and racism, 379 have protagonists or secondary characters who are LGBTQ+ or address LGBTQ+ issues, and 184 are either history books or biographies.
These statistics paint a clear picture of what legislators are currently trying to do: erase the lives and experiences of marginalized communities from classrooms and libraries. Book bans are not about “making kids more comfortable,” “protecting children,” or “exercising parental rights.” They are about censoring and condemning topics that need to be discussed. They are an attempt to push a vision that contorts American society, history, and reality onto children by ignoring the issues faced by already marginalized groups. Acknowledging race, learning about history from a different perspective, and allowing the LGBTQ+ community to be heard should not be shunned; rather, they should be sought after.
Educators in the U.S. are also being censored for raising awareness of subjects that have been labeled as controversial. The Holocaust, Jim Crow laws, and slavery are not controversial; they are a painful part of our history, and it is the responsibility of educators to ensure that the next generation does not forget them. It is the responsibility of educators to ensure that students continue to grapple with the legacies of these “uncomfortable” topics.
The efforts to censor educators and literature that focuses on race and LGBTQ+ issues seem to have the opposite of the intended effect. Students across America are pushing back against these bans and forming banned book clubs, where children and young adults congregate to read and discuss books that have been censored by school districts. In these clubs, students read books such as “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a work about a dystopian totalitarian society in which women are treated as property, and “Out of Darkness,” a novel on a love affair between a Mexican-American teenage girl and an African-American teenage boy.
Nuanced, complex topics are best addressed when multiple perspectives are introduced. Censoring those topics doesn’t protect children; rather, it pushes them to fail to critically think about, grapple with, and respond to the issues at the forefront of society. These books exist to introduce more diverse perspectives into the minds of youth. They encourage youth to break out of a sheltered childhood and learn more about the world surrounding them.
At its core, book banning is a cultural issue that’s been widely politicized. It seems as though politicians will stop at nothing to censor these books. As these bans are driven by legislation and politicians, it’s unrealistic to believe that the federal government will step in and put a ban on book banning. Instead, this issue should be fought on the local level. It’s now up to librarians, teachers, voters, and students to take a stand and fight back. Librarians should continue to stock their shelves with a variety of books, including those that have come under criticism. Teachers and educators must continue teaching their students about the Holocaust, Jim Crow laws, slavery, and the countless other periods that are a part of American history. Voters can make their voices heard and vote for candidates who don’t advocate for the restriction of free speech. Students, the main stakeholders in this issue, should continue seeking out banned books.
In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch tells Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” What he advises Scout will always hold true: books are an instrument effective at teaching kids about the existence of other perspectives and to consider them as they broaden their worldview. These books present topics that may be hard to swallow, but they provide youth with a good sense of what is occurring in the world. Book bans destroy the possibility of initiating rigorous but necessary conversations.