In February 2016, legislation surfaced in Virginia that, if passed, would have permitted the “banning” of certain works of literature in the state’s grade schools. Parents would be allowed to opt their children out of reading books containing material that they do not approve of, particularly if the subject matter has “sexually explicit” content.
The bill ended up passing in both the Virginia House and Senate, but was (thankfully) vetoed by then-Governor Terry McAuliffe.
But this isn’t the first time “banning books” has been an issue in the U.S. — and it likely won’t be the last.
Key works like To Kill A Mockingbird, Beloved, The Great Gatsby, and even Fahrenheit 451 (a novel specifically focused around – and criticizing – the banning of books in society) have historically been taken out of schools for various reasons, spanning from racism and “community values” to language and sexual content.
The issue is so prevalent that an organization has been fighting against it since 1982, with the implementation of “Banned Books Week,” a celebration of some of the most frequently censored works in American society, which takes place at the end of September.
While many argue that parents have a right to protect their children from possible dangers, preventing them from reading only hurts their young minds by limiting their access to new, progressive ideas and important global issues.
Consider Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman At Point Zero, a novel about an Egyptian woman who experiences heavy physical and sexual abuse, causing her to resort to prostitution and even murder. Beyond these mere plot aspects, the work sheds light on the real issue of misogyny that plagues northern Africa and the Middle East.
Without books like these, American children would be hopelessly sheltered and unaware of the growing issues that plague people around the world — outside of their small hometowns.
This is not to say that curriculum should not be designed to fit the grade level and maturity of the students in the school system. To a child too young, Thatcher’s Gone With The Wind is nothing more than a glorified depiction of slavery in the south.
But to high schoolers, the book provides more of an insight to the realism of the south in the Civil War era, a key supplement to both their literary and historical studies.
Furthermore, El Saadawi’s work would be traumatizing to a child too young to understand its motive, but to a more mature student, it is vital to their exposure to global problems.
Preventing children from experiencing the reality of these issues is preventing society’s progression forward toward a better world. Anything that hinders children’s ability to make change — including banning books — hurts the future of the country and the world by blocking ideas and solutions from coming forward.
The job of schooling is to expand the mind, and this cannot be done if we censor subjects deemed controversial.
We cannot allow the government to prevent new ideas from growing in the minds of our nation’s children: we must take action by enlisting school boards, teachers, and entire communities in the fight for freedom of speech in grade schools.
We must not let our society fall to into the trenches of censorship.
Our kids deserve better than that.