The Immorality of Book Banning
Through the years the process of stopping people from reading certain ideologies in books has changed from burning every found copy to banning them from public and school libraries, or at least trying to (Palmer). A book can be ‘challenged’ which means a complaint about it has been made and it is asked to be taken off the shelves, if the challenge succeeds that means the book has been banned (Bird). Frequently banned books tend to be the ones that parental figures deem “obscene” or “inappropriate” but these books are the ones that correctly show the teenage experiences of today. Under the disguise of a concerned parent are the old views that they use to ‘protect’ their children but the line between protecting a child and affecting a whole generations way of thinking is very thin (Palmer). The risks that can come from taking away a child’s privilege to read what they want are not worth it and that is why book banning is immoral.
Books are banned for many reasons such as gay or religious themes, explicit content, curse words, and many other things. Whatever the reason may be they all fall under or between two categories: old world views and overprotective parents. Old world views are typically sensitive to books appreciating and including other cultures in a positive way. This has to do with a fear of diversity and a fear of the world as they knew growing into an accepting society that welcomes diverse people with open arms (Macrae). Therefore, they push to get rid of any texts that praise this idea of a society. If banning of a book for that reason succeeds it launches the idea that these groups aren’t as important as others (Palmer). Parents will usually agree that when they see their child, no matter how old they are, they will always be there babies that need protection. Most of the time the things believed to be ‘harmful’ are just ideologies and situations written about in books that differ from what the person banning wants to see (Palmer). Whether the reason behind it is older views or protective parenting books usually banned for racial themes, political views, native lifestyles, or a few mentions of sexual situations. (Morris and Bird).
Empathy is described as the ability to understand and share the feeling of another. A lot of empathetic people factor that into their self-identity, both empathy and self-identity are very important things in a person that books can help develop for the better of society (Morris). Books are a gateway to different experiences which open eyes to the struggles that the divergent side of society deal with, banning these books takes away this much needed knowledge that would help people grow (Procon and Morris). Neil Gaiman, author of Neverwhere, a frequently challenged novel once said “Fiction builds empathy… you get to feel things, visit places, and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a ‘me’ as well. You’re going to be slightly changed. Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals” (Procon). Two individual studies showed that reading a book featuring a Muslim woman and reading the Harry Potter series improved thoughts on immigrants and other things such as refugees and homosexuals (Procon). Many books that are commonly challenged, including forty-six of the Radcliffe Publishing Groups “Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century”, contain knowledge that can help teenagers get a superior view of the world and their belonging in it (Procon). In a society where teenagers are already misunderstood and belittled, books where characters are struggling with the same problems are a great way for them to feel not alone but with these books being banned they no longer see those struggles portrayed which sends the message that their feelings and problems are nothing but trivial and invalid (Palmer). The younger generations are facing a set of unique problems that the older ones never had to even fathom and with the books that discuss these problems being pulled from shelves they are left with separation and erasement (Palmer).
Books are banned for outrageous reasons, two of the most outrageous being for sexual education and characters with mental illnesses. Many youth in the world deal with a variety of mental illnesses from common anxiety to less common ones like schizophrenia. It can be hard dealing with these problems and most teenagers and kids going through this won’t have a proper role model who has dealt with the illness in the way the child has, that is why books with characters displaying and dealing with those same illnesses are important. A stigma has grown around mental illness; in media and movies it is becoming more common that somebody with Dissociative identity disorder, for example, is the villain. This may seem harmless at first but to people who suffer from the same disorder being associated with a killer monster will make them feel like they are a bad guy. In books however there seems to be a more positive outlook on characters, yes their illness can cause some bad things but that doesn’t mean they are bad people, this is what the youth need to be taught about their illness. “…Youth with higher levels of mental health symptoms may select books that speak to them, offer them a chance for introspection or a release from their symptoms” -Stetson university psychologist Christopher Ferguson (Jacobs).
Another wise author Sue Grafton once said “by acknowledging the problems, [we’re] also acknowledging the kids who are dealing with them. These parents think that they’re protecting the precios children. Turns out they’re doing the opposite. Ignoring a kid’s reality doesn’t make it go away. It just means the kid gets to suffer alone” (Palmer). This advice adheres to the challenge books containing sexual education material are facing. During banned books week a library in Maryland set up a display featuring many banned books, the one that caused the most uproar was a book called ‘The Little Blackbook for Girlz: A Book on Healthy Sexuality’. This books talks about many things young girls need to know for example: how to deal with sexual assault. Parents verbally attacked library staff claiming that they were using the book to lure kids into trusting them then use that trust for their own perverted reasons (Macrae). It is more important now than ever that children are familiar with this information so that they can grow to be confident yet safe in what they do (Bird).
Half of the most challenged books in 2016 were ones that contained LGBTQ+ themes (Bird). These of course were challenged due to old world views that anything that isn’t hetrosexual is wrong. A lot of people still hold these views today, in fact a public library in Maine was under fire by local church leaders due to their banned books display featuring books such as Two Boys Kissing, and Tango Makes Three, My lesbian Experience with Loneliness, and more. The letter they wrote to the library telling them to take the books off the display contained statements such as “The library should not be promoting a far left view that sees homosexuality as acceptable,” they suggested that the display was disrespectful of a “Conservative and traditional view that sees homosexuality as wrong and to be avoided.” The pastor’s also claimed that the books were basically a form of child abuse and were “not appropriate for a public area where children are present.” No where in the letter did they mention the BDSM book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ or the posters of a naked straight couple embracing despite their disapproval of PG-themed kids books (Duffy).
One of the common core state standards states: “To become college and career ready, students must grapple with works of exceptional craft and thought whose range extends across genres, cultures, and centuries. Such works offer profound insights into the human condition and serve as models for students’ own thinking and writing” (Palmer). Even though this is a standard for all schools many teachers will censor books by modifying as the read out loud, marking out controversial topics, or even choosing to not include books due to the fear of parents calling for their heads (Palmer). This fear of being fired for a book leads teachers to read the same whitewashed book that doesn’t stimulate children’s brains. Even books that are thought of as objectionable have some sort of educational value, in fact many books that are now a reading requirement in classrooms were once very controversial. An example is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald which many high schools require be read at some point in an english class (Procon). A schools mission is to provide an inclusive education and that is not possible without students facing controversial topics (Palmer and Bird). This is typically seen as a non-issue among administrators and educators but it is wrong because no matter the reason a book is banned, it still leaves a minority group from being fairly represented (Palmer and Bird). Parents do not have the right to restrict what is available for every kid to read just because they don’t want their child exposed to something (Procon).
There are several ways to combat book banning so that future generations may read freely. One of the first steps in accepting different views is to realize that the world is ever changing and way different than the one once known (Palmer). A second step is to prepare to fight a book being banned so that when the challenge arises things are already in order to fight back (Palmer). Teachers can help fight this problem by discussing the topics in the books that are controversial and explain why it is needed in the story (Kelly). Opening discussions about the reasons why the topic is so controversial is also helpful (Palmer). Jackson bird gave wise information and said “Do what most people who are challenging books haven’t done and get the full context on a book about why it’s being challenged so you can come to your own conclusions” (Bird). Work with administration so that rash decisions can be avoided (Palmer). The most important thing that can be done is to see students as intellect people who are capable of making decisions for themselves, with this their opinions can finally be fully acknowledged (Palmer).
The supreme court in 1982 once ruled that taking books off library shelves could be considered a violation of the students’ first amendment rights, they also added “Local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books” (Procon). Book banning, though not perceived as one, is a huge issue that causes erasure, loss of potential empathy, and great loss for future generations. Theremore book banning is immoral.