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Is Book Banning Happening Near You? How Banning Books Hurts Students and Staff

Book banning has been going on for ages. It would often start with hair-raising questions at the dinner table or while being tucked in as children sought to know more from their parents about a book they were reading in school. After skimming through their child's book, the concerned parent would then pop into the school and engage the teacher or administration in rather heated complaints.

Parents, in conjunction with local groups, activists, and lawmakers, have taken book challenges to unprecedented levels. Approximately 2,532 books were banned during the 2021-22 school year across 32 states, and we can expect more bans in subsequent school years.

But is book banning helpful? Does it affect students and their learning experiences?

Which Books are Being Banned?

According to First Amendment Museum, the top reasons for book banning include: 

  • Sexual content
  • Violence
  • Racism
  • LGBTQIA+ themes
  • Offensive language
  • Anti-family content
  • Religious viewpoint
  • Political viewpoint
  • Use of illegal substances
  • Unsuitability to the age of children

In their defence, the parents and conservative advocacy organizations that compile books for banning do so to preserve their children's innocence. However, the margin between protecting children and impacting a generation's mindset is increasingly blurry. Because while limiting access to certain books may solve a particular family's concerns, it removes the opportunity for another family or child to be heard and understood. 

Does Book Banning Hurt Children?

Kids are naturally self-focused, imagining life based on the experiences they have in their homes and community. The one sure thing book banning achieves is keeping children in a life of ignorance. It produces a narrow mindset that keeps children from understanding different worldviews, religious beliefs, and cultures.

Many children will then be unable to relate to or empathize with the issues others grapple with daily. This is perhaps the unseen motivation behind those who challenge and push for bans. They lack a comprehensive appreciation of views that differ from their beliefs, leading them to muzzle those who speak up. This, then, is more about ideologies than actually protecting children.

And what does this teach our kids? That it's okay to stop various viewpoints from reaching others simply because you disagree with them, ultimately making society more xenophobic. Perhaps the parents' inability to relate to the realities our children face today and this gap makes them unable or uncomfortable in addressing them.

Banning More than Books

Consider this: most of the challenged and banned books are an actual portrayal of the present world. What parents deem inappropriate reflects the real world teens experience today, from family problems to relationships, sexuality, bias, violence, and drugs. In banning books that explore these themes, parents aren't necessarily protecting kids; they are casting aside and ignoring the unique circumstances these children may face.

Without such books, children are left to suffer alone and struggle to make the right decisions when faced with a new situation. Instead of seeing a character in a particular situation that mirrors their own, they are left to struggle alone. Taking such experiences away from children also takes away the adage, "I know what you're going through." Such affirmations have a lasting and invaluable psychological effect on children.

With so many book bans, teachers find themselves walking on shaky ground, unsure of their choices. Watching fellow teachers suffer through controversies and confrontations with parents and the community at large makes them wary of the curriculum, resulting in self-censorship. Oftentimes, teachers will skip passages or modify the texts they read out loud if only to "stay out of trouble."

Because, in the end, they still want to keep their reputation and job. With such censorship, we limit what children can learn in a safe space and under the skillful guidance of an educator. We deny them the ability to critically analyze complex topics within the appropriate context.

What's the Way Forward?

There will always be a book that rubs people the wrong way, but we need to address our own discomfort when it comes to exposing children to difficult concepts—at the appropriate age, of course. Hiding the truth doesn't diminish it. If anything, it leaves our children unprepared for the world they are living in. 

Perhaps we should start organizing inclusive book discussions where students' parents, teachers, and school administrations can voice their opinions. Educators can leverage the opportunity to clear up issues raised and share the potential benefits of the proposed literature. In such scenarios, expectations and standards are set early to avoid conflicts later.

Written by Evelyn Maina
Education World Contributor
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