Laura Molloy discusses the impact of censorship on education as the United States continues to ban books.
The 2022-23 academic year has been rythmed by the escalation in the number of books being banned across the United States. The book-banning movement began in 2021 and is led by both local citizens and advocacy groups. The movement has led to an increase in the number of titles being deemed as “harmful” to children, suppressing the content covered in schools’ curriculums. The banning of books is associated with the national campaign known as the “Ed Scare,” which aims to suppress the freedom of expression in public schools. The campaign restricts students’ freedom to learn and think freely as the teaching of topics such as race and gender is limited.
The titles that are being censored can be divided into three main categories:
Books featuring characters of colour or themes of race and racism.
Books being banned within this section include many popular titles such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Students studying at the School of English in UCD will be very familiar with books appearing on the list. One novel and one play studied in a core module for first-year students have both been banned. These include A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry and Exit West by Moshin Hamid. Hansberry’s play was first produced in 1959, a time of prevalent racism and segregation across the United States. The play depicts the lives of a Chicago-based family and authentically portrays the reality of Black life. It’s disheartening to see the education system take ten steps backwards as US authorities deprive students of key resources. Unlike A Raisin in the Sun, Hamid’s novel focuses on a contemporary setting. Having only been published in 2017, it explores modern issues people of colour face such as immigration and the lives of refugees. The book expertly demonstrates how racism is still a large part of our society despite the progress we have made. However, it is difficult to remember such progress as censorship continues to deny students access to expanding their education and personal growth as individuals. If the Black Lives Matter Movement taught us anything, it is that we still have significant learning and growing to do as a society.
Books featuring characters or themes of LGBTQ+.
Walt Whitman’s collection of poetry Leaves of Grass and the classic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde are just two examples of the titles banned because they are associated with such themes. The Picture of Dorian Gray is another title that is studied at UCD. In recent years, the novel has been studied in the module Writing the Body, which focuses on content such as expression and identity. Studying this text has facilitated key debates among students. It has forced them to consider how identities are constructed and how social norms influence our acceptance towards others. The removal of discussions from the classroom limits students’ understanding of identities that are different to their own. The education system should be teaching children empathy and providing them with awareness. Censorship only puts students at risk of becoming ignorant of problems that do not directly affect them. Interestingly, Wilde’s novel does not specifically reference homosexuality or include a character who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The only connection the novel has to such content is the author’s sexuality. This raises the issue of separating writers from their fictional characters and worlds and discriminating against the author due to his sexuality. At times, the experience of writers’ personal lives can be reflected in their work, but often this is not the case. Walt Whitman has also been subject to this issue as a poet. However, it is not Whitman’s work that is debated as homosexual. Instead, it is the poet’s own sexual orientation that has been questioned by critics. Once again, the world of literature struggles to separate fact from fiction.
The removal of discussions from the classroom limits students’ understanding of identities that are different to their own. The education system should be teaching children empathy and providing them with awareness. Censorship only puts students at risk of becoming ignorant of problems that do not directly affect them.
Books featuring themes of violence, sexual experiences and well-being.
This category is crowded with titles famously studied in second and third-level education. Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice are just a handful of the texts being censored. The list is also composed of many titles studied by UCD students – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley are books English students are well acquainted with. Both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz have a target audience of children, yet they are censored for references to themes of sex, violence, or well-being. Any occurrence of these themes within either book is undoubtedly appropriate for a young age. Hence, their popularity for being studied both at school and university. Banning these novels or similar texts does not protect children from harm. Of course, students need to be taught different topics at different ages based on their maturity levels. Nevertheless, eliminating such titles and their accompanying discussions when studied only prohibits students from learning about the adversities of life. Students deserve to learn more than fairy tales and perfect happy endings. The education system must provide a space for students to learn about worlds and people that are different to their own. Without a well-rounded education, a student does not have preparation for the world beyond their school’s four walls.
Students deserve to learn more than fairy tales and perfect happy endings. The education system must provide a space for students to learn about worlds and people that are different to their own. Without a well-rounded education, a student does not have preparation for the world beyond their school’s four walls.
Both students and teachers are encouraged to continue discussing this issue and to continue raising awareness. As Baylor University student Karly Shepperd said “book bans enforce silence. What we need to do is speak.” If you are interested in learning more about this issue, OTwo strongly encourages you to read the ‘Let Kids Read’ campaign on the Penguin Random House website or research the variety of resources and information provided by the organisation PEN America.
While the future of these banned books remains unclear, the power of students’ and teachers’ voices cannot be denied.