By Emma Reilly
Secondary schools that ban books often justify the censorship of students’ reading materials by framing it as a matter of protection. Parents and school boards alike argue that middle and high school students are too young and immature to handle descriptions of violence, sex, and war in literature.
There is definitely an extent to which certain topics are inappropriate for children. Nevertheless, restricting access to diverse voices and vital historical information for the sake of preserving innocence is unacceptable. This is especially true when an overwhelming number banned books do not contain egregious content and happen to be written by marginalized authors.
According to The New York Times, recent bans include Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel “Maus,” Toni Morrison’s novel “The Bluest Eye,” John M. Johnson’s memoir “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” and Maia Kobabe’s memoir “Gender Queer.”
These titles fall into an alarming pattern. Many are critically acclaimed, and all were written by authors who represent marginalized communities. They tell stories of oppression, persecution, and racism; tackle topics related to gender and sexuality; and highlight past injustices.
When these topics are made inaccessible, students are prevented from exploring identity, learning about history, and discovering community.
According to The New York Times, the practice of book banning is occurring at an alarming rate and is becoming increasingly politicized.
“Conservative groups in particular, fueled by social media, are now pushing the [book] challenges into statehouses, law enforcement, and political races,” The New York Times’ Elizabeth Harris and Alexandra Alter said.
Banning books on the basis of political controversy only fosters ignorance and isolation. Students who are unaffected by issues like racism will remain uninformed about them. Meanwhile, marginalized students will remain ostracized from their more privileged peers as schools display an unwillingness to foster inclusivity in the classroom and tell their stories.
Additionally, if the perceived contentiousness of a book’s subject allows it to be struck from reading lists, students will be left unaware of past and present realities that — though harsh — likely affect themselves or their peers.
According to NBC, a predominantly white Pennsylvania school recently banned an array of instructional materials about race — including the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” the film “Hidden Figures,” and the book “I Am Rosa Parks.”
Racism is still prevalent and students of color are deeply affected by it. Despite its historical and present relevancy, literature about it continues to be banned.
“Children, especially children of color and those who are members of ethnic minorities, were not sheltered or spared from [historical] horrors when they happened,” The Atlantic’s Marilisa Jiménez Garcia said. “What’s more, the sanitization of history in the name of shielding children assumes, incorrectly, that today’s students are untouched by oppression, imprisonment, death, or racial and ethnic profiling.”
Many books are banned because their subject matter is believed to be contentious or harmful to students. “Maus,” Lois Lowry’s “Number the Stars,” and Anne Frank’s “Diary of a Young Girl” — which are all about Jewish people’s experiences during the Holocaust — are among this number.
At the same time that these books are being characterized as detrimental to students on the basis of divisiveness, some schools are pushing for the presentation of alternative perspectives on topics — including the Holocaust — in the classroom.
“In October, a Texas school-district administrator invoked a law…instructing teachers to present opposing views about the Holocaust in their classrooms,” Garcia said.
This reveals that America’s schools are dangerously willing to silence minority voices in favor of the voices of oppressors. It seems that comfort is more important than reality for a significant number of parents and school board officials.
By eliminating certain perspectives from students’ literary repertoire, we are sanitizing our history and curating a dangerously heteronormative, white-dominated narrative for student consumption. Students deserve access to those inclusive and representative texts.
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Featured Photo Caption: Banning books prevents students from accessing important voices and community discourse.