The Silenced Sorcerer This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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      The American Library Association defines censorship as the “suppression of ideas and information that certain persons ... find objectionable or dangerous.” This vague definition forces one to wonder, who is vested with the authority to decide what is “objectionable and dangerous”? And, with this “suppression of ideas,” who are we really protecting? Can the lack of information and abundance of one-sided information actually aid anyone in developing a well-rounded view of the world?

Even before the birth of the United States and its Constitution, censorship of the press was a topic of concern and controversy. One would think that with the First Amendment of the Constitution stating, “Congress shall pass no law ... abridging the freedom of the press,” we would be able to print and read whatever we desire. But that is not the case. Censorship, even in the realm of children’s literature, is still common. After growing concerns about the witchcraft, “dark images,” and violence in the Harry Potter books, the series topped the list of frequently banned books in America from 1999-2001, according to the American Library Association.

Constitutionally speaking, one must question the banning of a book. Does a school have the authority to restrict students’ access to information? Aren’t schools designed to promote diversity of knowledge and an education free of political opinions and propaganda? According to the Supreme Court case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, principals do have the authority to censor material being brought into a school that is deemed inappropriate for those reading it. In a heated debate, dissenting juror Justice William Brennan stated, “this ruling violates the First Amendment’s prohibitions against censorship of the press. Limiting expression limits education and strangles the mind.” If a principal deems certain written material to be “inappropriate” for some students, must a book be censored from all, including those students who are more mature?

Many concerned Christian parents objected to the Harry Potter books being used in school assignments, read aloud in class, or even placed in the school library. Witchcraft, they argued, was prevalent in these books and could contribute to the delinquency of their children. I find it doubtful that children who become enthralled with the realm of Hogwarts and Quidditch will try to fly around on brooms, capture white owls, or attempt to use witchcraft against their enemies.

If Harry Potter is to be censored from schools for reasons of wizardry and magic, why are Disney books still on school shelves? Surely the Genie in Aladdin; Dumbo; and Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather from Sleeping Beauty are just as detrimental to kids as the young Harry Potter. I find myself quite a bit more terrified of a flying magical elephant than an orphaned teenage wizard in training. If these parents wish to suppress the minds of young readers for fear of wizardry, so be it. However, if these parents do succeed, they should also censor Disney books and others containing magic, since a child’s mind would obviously be harmed in reading those as well.

After Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the United States District Court case Right to Read Defense Committee of Chelsea v. School Committee of the City of Chelsea found that “a school should be a readily accessible warehouse of ideas that are not only presenting one side of an idea, but all.” This ruling, somewhat contradictory to the earlier Supreme Court case, meant school libraries were not permitted to exclude certain books, but could add books arguing their case at their discretion. Parents opposed to Harry Potter further crusaded against the use of these books in school districts due to “dark images and violence.”

I will not deny the claim that the Harry Potter books contain violence. However, this is not reason enough to place a book on a banned list. In a technologically advanced country where blockbusters pride themselves on being the goriest, bloodiest, and most violent movies of the year, surely children being sheltered from the Harry Potter books have viewed far worse. And just try naming one Disney story in which a main character does not die or lose a parent.

One can’t help but notice the violence and dark images in “The Lion King.” The scenes of Simba returning to Pride Rock following Rafiki’s wishes, the enormous brawl between the hyenas and lions, and Mufasa’s death purposely caused by his brother, are as violent as any passage in Harry Potter. Furthermore, the Harry Potter books strongly emphasize themes of tolerance, community, friendship, trust, unity, loyalty, and education as the key to empowerment. I find it difficult to comprehend why parents would want to deny their children these lessons.

The Harry Potter books actually provide a fantastic relief for some children whose reality is a far cry from such magical episodes. Censorship restricts the growth of an individual, the advancement of knowledge, and the diversification of intellect. Censorship, contrary to those in favor of it, rarely achieves its desired goal. It is my sincerest hope that this sorcerer is never silenced.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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Bethani said...
Jun. 9, 2010 at 3:49 pm
Great topic! I know how you feel. My cousins who are Mormon aren't allowed to read or watch Harry Potter but I think it's terrible to say that someone can't get certain media. I wish I could show my aunt and uncle that Harry Potter isn't bad. 
 
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