September 30 to October 6, 2012 is Banned Books Week. For the past 30 years the book community has been celebrating the freedom to read by highlighting the problem of censorship with a variety of events held at bookstores and libraries.
According to BannedBooksWeek.org, in 1982 Banned Books Week was launched. Since that year more than 11,000 books have been banned.
Click here to see the ten most challenged books in 2011.
Below is an essay I wrote for one of my classes in 2011 about censorship.
A classic children’s book about a pig who befriends a spider is 78th on the best-selling hardcover list and is also on the American Library Association’s frequently challenged classics list. Charlotte’s Web
was challenged in 2006 by a Kansas school district because of the talking animals and the “inappropriate subject matter” when Charlotte the spider died.
The parent group who challenged this 1953 Newbery Honor winner said, “humans are the highest level of God’s creation and are the only creatures that can communicate vocally. Showing lower life forms with human abilities is sacrilegious and disrespectful to God.”[i]
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has been banned by a California elementary school in January 2010 for its definition of oral sex[ii] and The American Heritage Dictionary
was banned in 1987 by a school district in Anchorage, Alaska because it includes “non-words” such as “bed”, “knockers” and “balls”.[iii]
One of the silliest reasons, at least in my opinion, to ban a book comes from my own home state, Texas. The Texas Board of Education banned Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. in January 2010 because they thought it was written by the same Bill Martin who wrote Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation. They never verified whether it was the same person or not.[iv]
These books were challenged or actually banned for senseless reasons while other books have been banned for their sexual content, language, racism, etc. Whatever the reason these books have been challenged or banned it still results in a violation against our nation’s First Amendment. Now as always in our history, reading is among our greatest freedoms. The written word is the natural medium for the new idea and the untried voice from which come the original contributions to social growth.[v]
No book should be banned, they should be available to any and all to read and decide their own opinion about. Each child will decide whether they like a book or not. Kids are smarter and wiser than we give them credit for.
What it really comes down to is a child’s maturity level. Some children are more sheltered than others so certain books may make them uncomfortable. Others may just have content that may be too far over their head. Shakespeare may not be the right kind of material for a five-year-old because they wouldn’t understand some of the material but if they want to try it they should be given that opportunity.
Parents and groups who decide a book should not be available at all to children or even adults are taking away the benefits of those books. The reader is not limited by birth, geographic location, or time, since reading allows meeting people, debating philosophies, and experiencing events far beyond the narrow confines of an individual’s own existence.[vi]
Judy Bloom, author of several books that have been challenged or banned, believes censorship is conceived through one thing, “I believe that censorship grows out of fear, and because fear is contagious, some parents are easily swayed. Book banning satisfies their need to feel in control of their children’s lives. This fear is often disguised as moral outrage. They want to believe that if their children don’t read about it, their children won’t know about it. And if they don’t know about it, it won’t happen.”[vii]
That’s why teachers and librarians have to work extra hard to make sure children have access to any and all the books they want but still come up with a list of books that satisfies parents and other groups while also allowing kids to broaden their horizons and letting their imagination to flourish. The teacher must exercise care to select or recommend works for class reading and group discussion.[viii]
Censorship in schools is a growing problem. The NCTE recommends a two-step program to protect students’ right to read for every school to adopt:
- the establishment of a representative committee to consider book selection procedures and to screen complaints; and
- a vigorous campaign to establish a community atmosphere in which local citizens may be enlisted to support the freedom to read.[ix]
Students and adults should be allowed to read anything and everything, taking away that right is unconstitutional, however, parents should be more involved in what their kids are reading. There are just other ways of going about it instead of taking away other children’s rights. Parents should open up a dialogue with their kids and teachers. They can ask the teacher for a comparable book that both parties approve of. Parents should talk about the things they don’t like about the book with their children and tell them why and answer their questions. There are other ways for parents to shelter their child instead of ruining it for everyone else; they just need to use their imagination.
[i] R. Wolf Baldassarro, Banned Books Awareness: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, April 3, 2011. http://world.edu/worldedu_posts/banned-books-awareness-charlottes-web-eb-white/
[ii] Jessie Junhardt and Amy Hertz, The 11 Most Surprising Banned Books, The Huffington Post, Posted 5/29/10, Updated: 5/25/11. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/29/the-11-most-surprising-ba_n_515381.html#slide_image
[iii] Melanie Jones, Banned Books: 7 Surprising Reasons to Censor. International Business Times Online. September 30, 2011. http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/223024/20110930/banned-books-surprising-reasons-censorship.htm
[iv] Pam Gaulin, Banner Books Week: 10 Banned Books You Might Not Expect. Yahoo! News online. September 24, 2011. http://old.news.yahoo.com/s/ac/20100924/en_ac/6827290_10_surprisingly_banned_books
[v] American Library Association. The Freedom to Read Statement. http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/ftrstatement/freedomreadstatement.cfm
[vi] NCTE. Guideline on The Students’ Right to Read. http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/righttoreadguideline
[viii] NCTE. Guideline on The Students’ Right to Read.
[ix] NCTE. Guideline on The Students’ Right to Read.