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Maus to Mockingbird: The Reality of Banned Books in School

When books in a school or part of a school curriculum are challenged, school boards can choose to ban a book and have it removed from the school shelves. Often this is done with good intentions; however, there are a lot of questions as to whether or not banning books is a good course of action. There are both advantages and disadvantages to banning books and knowing what will be best, in the long run, can often be hard to determine in the present.

More Books are Being Banned

Banning books is a controversial form of censorship, especially in schools. According to the American Library Association (ALA), the number of books that have been challenged and banned has risen significantly in recent years. The Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) tracked 155 unique censorship incidents from June to September 2021. The OIF’s director, Deborah Calwell-Stone, said, “We’re seeing an unprecedented volume of challenges in the fall of 2021. In my twenty years with ALA, I can’t recall a time when we had multiple challenges coming in on a daily basis.” For many that don’t agree with books being banned, this rise in banned books is concerning.

While the number of books being challenged and banned is increasing, so is the number of people speaking out against banned books. As more people work to censor students from potentially unsuitable books, more people who disagree with banning specific books or banning books, in general, are also speaking up. Those speaking up aren’t just parents, librarians, and teachers. A poll of teenagers taken by the New York Times indicates that many students are opposed to banning books. These students claim that censoring books can limit critical thinking and isn’t effective in this age of easy internet access.

It’s Hard to Measure How Appropriate a Book Is

The reasons for banning books are subjective. Even people who oppose banning books engage in some sort of censorship. Choosing what books to keep in your home, what books to read to children, or even what movies to watch and let your children watch are all forms of censorship at an elementary level. Common reasons for challenging and banning books from schools include sexual content, profanity, violence, racism, use of illegal substances, and material unsuited for a specific age group. The reasons for banning books also seem to be growing. As new ideas are explored and shared, and as books are written on more subjects, there is more controversy about what should be allowed in schools.

Given the 1982 Supreme Court case of Island Trees School District v. Pico, Findlaw summarizes the standard for banning books “school officials may not remove books from the school library simply because they dislike the ideas in the book. However, school officials may remove a book from a school library if it is inappropriate for the children of the school.” For many reasons, it is hard to determine if a book is appropriate or not for a group of children.

Because each student is different - with different backgrounds, experiences, and understandings - saying something is unsuitable for a specific age group is often challenging. This also makes deciding whether the content is objectionable or appropriate difficult. One parent might not think their child should be exposed to profanity in books, while another parent openly swears around their child. Whether a book promotes racism or educates about and discourages racism depends on how the book is presented and the student’s interpretation more than the book itself.

Ultimately, working to educate a group of many different students on sensitive topics means that there will be a variety of opinions on what is and is not appropriate for those students. The world is continually evolving, and the books available in schools are also changing. Added to this is society’s change and growth about what is and isn’t appropriate.

This Affects Everyone

There are no easy answers to any questions surrounding banned books in schools. The reality is that allowing or banning books in school affects society as a whole. Students, parents, teachers, and other faculty are the most affected, but as this generation grows up, they will take on the responsibility of running society. What they have been exposed to and the subjects they have learned to think critically about will affect what they do and how they choose to continue shaping society.

Written by Lina Filkins
Education World Contributor
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