Banned Books

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Banned Books

Nina Dorighi, Journalist

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Books like “ Thirteen Reasons Why”  by Jay Asher, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, and “To Kill a Mockingbird “ by Harper Lee have all been under fire for being taught and read in a classroom  because of its seemingly explicit content. Some see this material as something that doesn’t belong in the curriculum for younger people, while others believe that it is necessary for teens and kids to be exposed to harsh truths found in our world. It all comes down to opposing views on censorship: the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.

The argument against censorship considers the benefits of teaching young people about difficult themes and preserving the author’s purpose. Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye tackles dark topics like rape, pedophilia and incest. These themes got the book a spot on “The Most Challenged Books List” from the American Library Association. While these are heavy topics for people typically 13 or 14, as this book is read in 9th grade, there are said to be some benefits to this exposure. Common Sense Media states “Exploring complex topics like sexuality, violence, substance abuse, suicide, and racism through well-drawn characters lets kids contemplate morality and vast aspects of the human condition, build empathy for people unlike themselves, and possibly discover a mirror of their own experience.” Though there is explicit material in these controversial books, it’s important to look past that content and see the bigger picture and the message being made by the book. Take the classic To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee for example. Its story is banned from schools in Mississippi because of its use of racial slurs, however it also has the opportunity to give its readers a new perspective on the world they live in. It can also be argued that these books highlight the moral flaws in our society and bring them to light. For one these books spread awareness, and also make young people learn the hostility in our world flaws instead of normalizing them. In other words, when these heavy topics are presented in a classroom setting, it allows students a safe place to ask questions and comprehend it rather than encountering it without the security of a classroom. Ms. Hyzer is an English teacher at South and when asked about censorship she says, “ I think censorship is wrong because these works of literature reflect the true nature of life and censorship dilutes the author’s message.” Censorship not only hides the intent of the story from the student but also causes the authors integrity to disappear. Explicit material is added intentionally to a piece of literature by the author in order to convey the intensity or reality of  situation. It shows the real world in all its grit and aggression. “Life isn’t always perfect and pretty so it is important for students to learn how to have empathy and see these not so pretty parts of life,”  Ms. Hyzer adds. You can’t keep a child censored forever, especially with the growth of technology. It’s inevitable that the bitter realities of the world will become apparent. So learning about the ugly parts of the world at a relatively young age helps kids build empathy and be prepared to face it when independent. 

Censorship has been a topic heavily debated by parents and adults who work with children. Is it beneficial to keep some of the truth hidden from children? How far do we go to keep certain material out of a child’s sight? Banned or Challenged books are only controversial  because some people feel that younger people shouldn’t be fed the dark material in these books. The motivation for censorship is to preserve childhood innocence everyone is born with and to protect children from inappropriate themes. Some believe that the less you know about the world, the safer and more protected you will be from it. In other words, society is put to blame and seen as the enemy for corrupting our children. This idea is said to date back to about 429 BC when Athenian philosopher Plato made a systematic case for censorship. According to Stephen Hicks a part of Plato’s philosophy is  “ A moral citizen’s soul will be composed and dignified — but many musical modes stir us up inside and make us jangled and unsettled”  While this was referring to the philosophy of art it carries the same weight that we see in today’s arguments about censorship. It’s essentially saying that without censorship, we will be unsettled inside and lose the integrity of innocence that children are born with. This more or less applies to arguments made that explicit books shouldn’t be in a classroom. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is an example of a book that had a negative response to due to its placement in the school library. It tells the aftermath of a suicide in a fictional school and shows how different characters cope with the death. It was argued that this book not only exposed children to the concept of suicide but also glorified it and made the act seem appealing.  So banning this book is seen as protecting young minds while covering them in coats of sugar. 

Whether you are for censorship or against it, it’s important to consider both sides and understand the argument for both because censorship is getting more and more relevant today with access to the internet. It goes way beyond books now thanks to the growing industry of technology. Young people have access to see the things discussed in these books outside of the classroom environment whenever they want. As a student, I think it’s important to learn about “explicit”  things because they are apart of the real world and if we are told to never discuss them, there is an unhealthy wall built around them. So the debate of parental supervision and control over the content children see remains and evolves.