Sunday, September 25, 2011

Celebrate Banned Books Week

Celebrate your right to intellectual freedom this week by reading a banned book. Prove to book banners around the country that the only thing they do by challenging books is generate more revenue and publicity for the authors. Because, really, the only thing you do when you ban a book is incite curiosity and cause more people to read it than would have if you had just kept your mouth shut.

For parents out there, the temptation is very strong to challenge books that are against your morals and beliefs, but rather than inciting outrage and uproar, use the book as a teachable moment to talk to your children about right and wrong. Just because authors write books and teachers use them in their classrooms does not mean that we are condoning the sex, alcohol, drugs, and violence that appear in these books. Just because book characters behave in certain ways does not mean that we're asking you to see them as role models. I don't think there's a person out there who reads The Catcher in the Rye and thinks, "Wow! Holden is so cool! I want to be just like him." Ummm... no. Even my lack of sophistication at critical thinking when I was a sophomore in high school saw what a pathetic mess Holden was. So book banners, the fact that you're worried that kids will see these characters as role models regardless of what is taught to them in the classroom shows what little faith you have in teens to think critically. And the only thing you're going to do by attempting your sanctimonious disregard for the first amendment is make kids and adults alike want to read the book all the more.

Another thing that irks me about book banning, well besides the whole going against the first amendment thing, is that people who challenge books are putting pressure on schools to teach books that are clean and about benign topics. Obviously these people are asking literature teachers to teach something other than literature then because the very nature of literature is conflict. And the older students get, the more complicated conflicts become. That's just life. And it's precisely the reason why you saw Harry Potter get darker and darker as the series progressed. He was no longer a little kid at the end. The older Harry got, the darker and more complex the conflicts in those stories became because adult problems are more complicated than kid problems. When choosing books for teens, it is very difficult to find literature that isn't controversial because if you don't have conflict in a book, then, well, you don't have literature! So if that's the case dear book banners, what then do you suggest literature teachers teach in place of, well, literature?

I'm going to leave you with John Green's video from a few years ago where he discusses his frustration over people trying to ban his book, Looking for Alaska, in schools. He makes the point so much better than I do about authors having characters behave in morally reprehensible ways, not to say that it's OK, but just the opposite. Again, as I said before, just because authors are writing about it, doesn't mean they're saying to go out and do it! Have faith in your kids to be able to discern that.


  1. I definitely don't think books should be banned, and on the flip side, I also don't think certain books should be forced upon young readers.

    One time when I was still in high school our English class was required to read a handful of books selected by the department faculty. We would then write papers on these books and that would make up a majority of our grade for the class. One of these books was an autobiography by a man who at the time was incarcerated. The book told the story of his life as a gang member, drug addicted, and criminal. Apparently, once in prison, this man found God and decided to write a book in order to warn young people against making the same mistakes as he had (particularly kids growing up the "hood").

    Truth be told, whatever positive message this story was supposed to convey was totally lost on me. The book was brimming with foul language and detailed descriptions of senseless violence, including brutal gang rapes. I recall being completely disgusted by what I was reading...not just because of the acts themselves, but also because I felt as though the story was more about shock value than anything else. I saw no merit in the book, and I didn't want to read it. I approached my English teacher with my concerns, and he basically told me that I had no choice in the matter. The book was on "the list" and so I had to read it regardless of my feelings/opinions.

    Anyways, my point is, that young readers should be presented with a variety of different books from various genres, encouraged to discuss these books with their parents/guardians, and then given the power to choose what they want to read either individually or as a class.

  2. Marg, I completely agree with you. If I had my way, literature in high schools would be taught completely in a workshop format where students choose their own books under guidelines from the teacher. I teach middle school and that's how I teach my lit classes. It so empowering for the kids to be able to choose their own books.

    High school is where I lost my love of reading because of the ridiculous reading requirements that sucked any sort of joy or pleasure I got out of reading.

    If you watched the John Green video, he mentions that parents in the English class in question had the right to say they didn't want their kid to read his book. What he takes issue with (as does anyone against book banning) is when a group of people get together and says "we don't think ANYONE should be allowed to read this book."

  3. Great post, Beth. I love your perspective on this as an educator. And I so agree that kids aren't going to look at every book character as a role model! They can be discerning. I just wanted Holden Caulfield to shut UP already, ha...

  4. Stopping by because of your link from this year's post. I have always been grateful that my mom let me read in the adult section at a younger age because she trusted my judgment and let me learn and explore. It is incredibly frustrating to me when people (including some relatives of mine) won't try something like Harry Potter because they've been told by their church that it's a gateway to Satanism and witchcraft. And they won't even read the books to judge for themselves because then they might be led into temptation. The irony is that when their kids grow up, if they read the HP books they'll have to wonder what the big deal is, and then they might question what else the church has taught them that's been blown out of proportion.

    I've been trying to gently convince my relatives for years that HP is a great series of fantasy books, using Lord of the Rings as a comparison (because there is a good wizard in that book too). For some reason LotR is okay (because J.R.R. Tolkien was friends with C.S. Lewis?), but HP is soul corrupting. It actually caused a rift between my relatives and I when I told them that I had read and loved the HP series. It's so ridiculous.