CADY: Book banning, burning harmful to learning

Graphic+by+Kendal+Bell

Graphic by Kendal Bell

Reading is a great joy in life that can teach us many things, and it should not be restricted.

A recent American Library Association report found that there were 330 “book challenges” in fall 2021. A book challenge is when a person requests for a book to be reviewed with the intent to withdraw it from a library or curriculum. This number is higher than previous years.

All types of schools across the country have seen a push to ban books containing content such as issues of sexuality, race and religion. 

In Oklahoma, Senator Rob Stanbridge has gone so far as to write a bill which would give parents the power to request removal of books in school libraries that involve sexuality, specifically non-heterosexual relationships, such as  “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and “Two Boys Kissing.” This bill would give parents the power to sue school districts up to $10,000 per day that the book remains in the school library.

The discussion of race in novels is under attack as well. Texas Representative Matt Krause put together a list of books that he wants school districts to review. One of the novels on this list include “The Hate U Give,” a book inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. The book is centered around Staar, a Black girl who lives in a poor neighborhood but attends a wealthy suburban school. Staar witnesses the death of her best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Krause’s argument is that books about the Black experience may be harmful to white students. 

Another book Krause wants school districts to review is “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” which discusses issues of racism in American history and aspirations for an antiracist future.

At the local level, these “book challenges” are increasing because parents are concerned that the material their children are being exposed to is inappropriate or harmful. However, something that challenges what you may believe or an opinion you may hold cannot be automatically deemed inappropriate or harmful.

The idea that parents are upset by their children learning about issues of race and sexuality in America is the real issue. Although there is a reasonable line of what is appropriate and what is not, such as a book that is offensive, restricting children from learning about real world issues through novels is a hindrance on their education and overall growth. Parents who argue against their children reading such books are stunting their children’s awareness, emotional intelligence and progress in life.

Texas legislators argued in June 2021 that extracurriculars and coursework in schools need to remain separate from “political activism,” in reference to social studies instruction material. But, the purpose of public education is not to guard students from the truth of the state of our country. Students need to understand the full picture of America to be viable participants in a democracy.

There is also concern being raised by religious individuals over books that detail witchcraft.

Recently, a controversial Tennessee pastor went as far as setting fire to books to battle “demonic influences.” Pastor Greg Locke led a book burning, which was livestreamed on Facebook, to incinerate copies of books including “Harry Potter” and “Twilight.” The participants were followers of Locke who also believed that the witchcraft and special powers included in the novels were unholy.

“We will be in our continued series on Deliverance from Demons. We have stuff coming in from all over that we will be burning. We’re not playing games. Witchcraft and accursed things must go,” Locke wrote in a since-removed Facebook post.

The issue here is not the pastor, or other people involved, disliking the contents of these books – it’s the degree to which they channeled their anger.

Throwing a novel into a fire because of a personal opinion about it is more than extreme, it’s unsettling. The volatile reactions people have to things they disagree with and the lengths they will go to in protesting them nowadays are frightening.

When I say this, I am not talking about serious issues such as hate in America, gun violence or police brutality. I am talking about the inability people seem to have with living among alternative ideas. Some people are still afraid of deviations from society’s perceived norms of sexuality, race, gender and overall what the status quo should be.

In some people’s homes, “Harry Potter” may be read, in others it may not. In some people’s homes, “The Hate U Give” may be read, in others it may not. That is okay.

What is not okay is a movement to ban books from school libraries because people disagree with the concepts in them.

The freedom for people to read and learn about race, religion and sexuality is not one that should be taken away because some people are still uncomfortable, as adults, with discussing them.

This story was written by Grace Cady. She can be reached at grace.cady@marquette.edu