Banning books harms society

Paige Dickerman, News Editor

Literature serves as the key to unlocking a better future, being the guide that directs the next generation to a more progressive world and allows them to avoid the mistakes of the past. While many are controversial or uncomfortable books, they are an important part of education that provide students with crucial knowledge to achieve a greater understanding of the world and how it can be improved. However, in many schools across the country, numerous books are being banned.

A free society is only free when its citizens have free speech, and if America deems itself as a free country, that belief must be expressed in allowing the freedom of literature.

According to the Washington Post, as of June 2022, the banned book list of American schools reached 2,532, most of which relate to sexuality, gender identity, or racial themes, including titles such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Catcher in the Rye,” and “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” among many others.

The reasoning for the bans vary, yet most remain the same: these works either question American history and society or are thought to use political and sexual language. This is despite the fact that few of these authors ever use vulgar words and most of these works are masterpieces of the reality of living in a world not made for you, making it blatantly clear that banning books isn’t about protecting children; it’s about advancing a political agenda.

Throughout history, certain periods and conflicts have promoted the forbidding of certain literary works, such as during the Civil War when southern states prohibited books expressing anti-slavery ideas, like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a book exposing slavery’s true cruelty. Furthermore, in Nazi Germany, over 20,000 books, mainly from Jewish authors like Albert Einstein and outspoken thinkers like Ernest Hemingway, were burned and banned. Instances such as these can even be compared to the 19th century when Charles Darwin had published his book “Origin of Species,” which was banned at many colleges and in the entire state of Tennessee since it taught the theory of evolution.

These instances and every other example of book banning in history are similar since they never were about protecting the interests of citizens. Instead, these acts were all concerned about imposing a political doctrine.

A New York Times article elaborates on the harmful effects banning books can have on students, stating that “Aggressively policing books for inappropriate content and banning titles could limit students’ exposure to great literature, including towering canonical works.” And while banning books does limit the knowledge American students can learn, the issue runs deeper than that as articulated by people like Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“If you focus on five passages, you’ve got obscenity,” Caldwell-Stone remarked. “If you broaden your view and read the work as a whole, you’ve got Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved.’”

While it can be argued that banning books like “Gender Queer,” a memoir that explores gender identity and sexual orientation, or “The Hate U Give,” a book that is banned for giving “anti-police messages,” is in the best interest of students since it argues for topics that may be uncomfortable or explicit, isn’t it the point of literature to challenge commonly held societal beliefs and to argue for change in an unjust world, even if it makes the reader uncomfortable?

It is the job of schools to educate students on how to make a better world, not how to conform to it and ignore current world issues. Discussing and reading topics like death, LGBTQ+ issues, and racism are all extremely important subjects for schools to teach and to allow students to explore.

In order to progress into a better future, people need to understand the mistakes of the past and the controversial issues that are observed in society today. If America is to truly be a free country, freedom begins with speech and literature and in allowing students to learn the triumphs and mistakes of the world to be better themselves.

Schools must stop banning books for the sake of a political agenda and realize that if they are not careful, history is doomed to repeat itself.