Censoring books accomplishes nothing good

Published 5:59 pm Friday, April 8, 2022

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I browse through state and national news as often as my time allows just so I can keep up with what’s happening outside our northeastern NC bubble. And over the past few months, I’ve seen a baffling uptick in stories about book banning.

I don’t read all of the articles, but most of them follow a pretty similar pattern. A parent or a small group takes issue with the contents of a book and then gets the book removed from library shelves (typically one at a school, but sometimes the public library as well). Sometimes, other people will then speak up on behalf of the banned book, and occasionally the decision is quickly reversed.

According to a recent report from the American Library Association (ALA), there were 729 challenges to 1,597 books in 2021 across the country. That’s the highest number of attempted book bans since the association started tracking the numbers 20 years ago. Of course, if you consider the vast amount of people and books in the whole United States, those numbers show that it’s just a vocal minority trying to get books banned. But the sharp rise in attempted bans compared to previous years still makes me raise my eyebrow in concern. It’s certainly happened enough times to catch the attention of reporters across the country.

The report notes that many of the books were deemed “objectionable” simply because they share the experiences of Black Americans or members of the LGBT+ community.

Isn’t that an odd thing to try to censor? Just the experiences of people who live and work all around us? Why go so far to outright ban a book when you can simply choose not to read it instead?

The ALA Executive Board issued this statement on widespread book banning efforts: “We stand opposed to censorship and any effort to coerce belief, suppress opinion, or punish those whose expression does not conform to what is deemed to be orthodox in history, politics, or belief. The unfettered exchange of ideas is essential to the preservation of a free and democratic society. Libraries manifest the promises of the First Amendment by making available the widest possible range of viewpoints, opinions, and ideas, so that every person has the opportunity to freely read and consider information and ideas regardless of their content or the viewpoint of the author.”

I definitely agree with the sentiment. If people start trying to stamp out one viewpoint they don’t like, what’s to stop them from silencing others? Who’s to say the uncensored view is the “correct” one? And how much do we lose when we don’t get to consider and examine opposing ideas?

Life is full of disagreements with people, and it’s essential to learn how to deal with those disagreements. Book bans, however, are a step backwards. Personally, I think they’re a waste of time and a bit disrespectful.

Let’s put ourselves in a hypothetical for a moment: imagine that I am a parent who objects to the contents of a book in the library of my child’s school. I don’t think my child should be reading that particular book because I don’t like the author’s message or there’s something I don’t think my child should be exposed to. So then I petition to get every copy of the book removed from the library, ensuring that my child and everyone else’s child at the school won’t have the opportunity to read that book at all.

Problem solved, right?

Well, actually, now that everyone’s talking about the banned book, everyone is suddenly much more interested in seeing what it’s all about. Now the kids are curious about why the book is forbidden. Now they want to see for themselves what’s so terrible that they aren’t allowed to read it, even if they might not have been interested in it before.

In this hypothetical situation, book banning just made everything worse.

Perhaps a better way to handle it would be to respect the child enough to let them make their own decisions about what they’re reading. I was the kind of kid who read a lot of different books all the time while I was a student. (I thought it would be a fun idea to read “Little Women” in fourth grade, for example.) Some books had content that wasn’t great or that I didn’t agree with. Some were really interesting and helped me understand ideas that came from other people’s perspectives.

But I also had a strong set of ideals and values that were taught to me early on by my parents, my church, and plenty of other mentors in my life. So when I stumbled across something that might have been “objectionable,” I simply moved past it. No harm done. It’s really as simple as that.

If there’s a book a parent might not agree with, read the whole book yourself and then maybe try discussing with your kids why you don’t agree with the content instead of outright forbidding the book. Kids and teens are more capable of discernment than some might think.

I personally remember during my childhood when small groups of people tried to ban the “Harry Potter” series because they said it “promoted witchcraft.” Let me tell you, I read those books cover to cover multiple times and never once thought I was able to actually perform magic.

It sounds to me that the people trying to ban books these days are just afraid of exposure to different viewpoints. Their foundation of thought is so shaky that they think it’ll be toppled by reading something that conflicts with it.

But that’s just my opinion on the subject. And it’s okay if you don’t agree with me!

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.