Banning Censorship; why book banning is wrong

March 24, 2017

In the last 33 years, 11,300 books have been challenged for various reasons. Harry Potter for witchcraft, The Diary of Anne Frank for being too sad. Teachers have been fired for teaching books like The Catcher in the Rye, and 36% of adults in a 2015 survey would support banning books that contained vampires. Banning books does not always mean removing a book from a school or town library. Sometimes the dangerous book is just moved to a restricted section, or taken off the summer reading list or, at the other extreme, burned. Honestly, the purpose of book banning- to restrict knowledge and control what young people read- is questionable. The most common reasons for book censorship are sexuality, language, and violence. That sounds reasonable, but when you look deeper at which books were banned and why, the whole thing seems a little unconstitutional. As Kurt Vonnegut said, "... Let's get back to the good old First Amendment of the good old-fashioned United States -- and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge, or give me death!" And yes, banning books is unconstitutional and wrong. Free speech, freedom of press and religion, are all important in the argument against book banning. But sometimes, can books are banned for a good reason? A parent should be able to protect their child from a racist or sexist book, or even one that just goes against their faith. In Stuart Little, the reader sympathises when Stuart’s parents change the words of a poem so he will feel better about being a mouse. But that protectiveness can change so quickly into something else, something that feeds the blazing fire as it licks at copies of Harry Potter, or the Bible, or Annie on My Mind when the mob burned it on school-steps barely 20 years ago for “homosexual themes.” Books are put on reading lists and in classrooms for a reason; the teachers or librarians think that they will help people in some way. Reading professionals can be trusted. There is nothing to hide from your children in the books that their teachers carefully pick out for them.


Are You There God, It's Me Margaret was written specifically because there were no other books at the time talking about periods and training bras, and girls’ confusion of starting puberty. Well, there must have been a reason for that, because half the world immediately jumped up and covered their kids’ ears. They thought that boys wouldn't want to hear about those bloody truths, and girls- well, they had managed before that sort of sexual thing was talked about in such a graphic manner. Why, the Alice book series was banned for just the mention of a low cut shirt, in a text only book. The age 10+ non-fiction puberty and sex-ed book, It's Perfectly Normal, has been banned over 16 times because, clearly, It's Not Perfectly Normal. Even the Merriam Webster Dictionary has been banned in a school after a parent complained that it had a definition for oral sex. Sexuality is the most common reason for book censorship, and that’s wrong.

One reason that Two Boys Kissing has been banned is that it apparently condones PDA. The book’s plot is about a real-life kissing  world record being broken. That is like saying a history book about WWII celebrates war. And of course it's also banned for homosexuality, which might be one of the most common cause of a book getting on the Top Ten Most Dangerous Books lists. Honestly, not letting your own children read books because they have gay characters is wrong in itself. But not letting hundreds of other kids read them is irresponsible and limiting. People deserve to read about what affects them. Removing books about rape from the library will only hurt victims, and why shouldn't a kid with gay parents get to read a books about a family like theirs- albeit penguins. If you have a perfect, privileged life, good for you. But 80% of banned books in 2014 had diverse content- defined as non-white, or disabled main characters, non-Western settings, and themes of race/racism.


There is a lot of irony in book banning. Blacking out “hells” and “damns” within a book about the evils of book censorship? Banning the Bible for taking a religious viewpoint, and several pastors burning it because it was the wrong edition? Banning Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for racism, when the entire book is about overcoming racism and brings to light race issues that people might not know about- that is laughable.  The author, Sherman Alexie, has slammed education authorities for wanting to "control debate and limit the imagination" after The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was pulled from the curriculum in Idaho schools. Sherman Alexie’s young adult bestseller is an important book that raises questions for teens, and opens readers’ eyes to issues they might not have been aware of.


Banning books you haven't even read, and banning any book that talks about magic, makes sense, right? Because magic leads to witchcraft, and witchcraft leads to Satan, and then back to Salem to burn more witches and books.      

The most commonly challenged book in America in the last few decades is Harry Potter. The very book series which taught so many children about friendship, love, and corrupt governments. Banned and burned for its supposed satanic implications, Harry Potter was not even read by most of its challengers. One pastor, leading his congregation in throwing all seven books into a roaring bonfire, admitted to not having read the series himself- but he had heard, he had heard of how the books could easily seduce children to leading an magical lifestyle- magical as in Anti-Christian, that is. And sure, who didn’t want their own owl with an accompanying letter? But there’s a difference between getting swept up in a fantasy series, and wanting to set fires in the name of religion- because that’s what they’re worried about, right?


The 12th most banned book from 1990-2000 was My Brother Sam is Dead, which was actually a read aloud book in my class in 6th grade. The reasons it was banned were mild language, violence, minors drinking, and an unpatriotic attitude towards the American Revolution. Yes, there is a lot of violence, but I think any kid is going to get that from the title. Anyway, it's no worse than anything they've seen before on TV or in video games.      
The main problem with this challenge is the “unpatriotic” complaint. This book is an informative, unbiased, and honest story that some kids will love, or at least get something from. Are books now required to agree with the government, or of the government of 240 years ago? Thomas Paine’s written pamphlet Common Sense was arguably what sparked the Revolution, or at least stoked the fire. Books do not- should not- have to comply with “Patriotism.” I learned a lot from that book, I learned that the good guys are not always good and that the bad guys might be just as bad. The two sides in the story both cause bloodshed and pain, and that is true to what happened then, and happens in any war or conflict. Books can teach, can give another opinion. You cannot ban free thought, you cannot control your children's minds. When we ban books for “content inappropriate for this age”, we are no better than countries banning dystopian novels for fear their citizens will realize what's up. Protesters have been arrested in Thailand for using the Mockingjay hand symbol from The Hunger Games, and the books are not allowed there because they talk of rebellion. It is wrong to cut off people’s voices and thoughts like this. And every book that we censor, we slip closer and closer to the same silence.


Burning books is always wrong. From Nazi Germany to Ancient China to some modern day churches, scared dictators set fire to knowledge to keep their citizens believing every word they said. Just look at Fahrenheit 451, unless you can’t because your library’s copy of this book burning dystopia classic has been censored like it was in the Conroe, Tex., Independent School District in 2006 and the Venado Middle School in California. As William Westmoreland, an American soldier, tellingly said, “Without censorship, things can get terribly confused in the public mind.” That would really be terrible if people got access to information from different points of view. Is the government so afraid that people might realize that authorities’ ideas are not always right?
Would there be problems with an overall ban on book censorship. Maybe, because people will say, well if I can't ban this book for swearing you can't ban this unbelievably racist book. But you know what? That's okay. Because banning things- alcohol, sex, books- doesn't make people see and do and read them less. No one who is a good person is going to be changed by those books, and bad people will have access to those ideas already through the Internet and conversation, and for people who could be swayed, there are just as many moral and right books to sway them. It would be a better world if no books had racism or fascism in their words, but the world is not perfect, and having the constitutional right to free speech- to not have a country where books are burned- is more important than regulating a few terrible people's books.

It would be a perfect world to have no hate speech, and still have free speech. But in this one, it’s better to have both than neither, because you should always be allowed to stand up for your views and complain about the ones you don’t agree with. And even better to be able to read what you want, regardless of the government or local parents' opinions on it.

There are many reasons that books are banned- violence, language, sex. But the main reason is fear, being afraid of someone else’s written thoughts because they disagree with yours. Restricting knowledge, burning anything you don’t like- that is clearly wrong, and book burning must stop.

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