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Censorship In Public High Schools Essay, Research Paper

For centuries, parents have wrestled with the question of how to raise their

children with the best moral and ethical standings. Along with this question

come others such as, "What are the right morals?" Today’s parents are

no different than they were in the past and the struggle continues. It’s

tempting to try to protect children from the perceived evils in modern society.

One such moral issue is the banning of books from high school libraries and

sometimes even classrooms, which may represent some of those aforementioned

perceived evils.

As long as humans have sought to communicate, others have sought to keep them

from doing so. Every day someone tries to restrict or control what can be said,

written, sung, or broadcast through censorship. Almost every idea ever thought

has proved offensive or worthy of objection to one person or another, and almost

everyone has sometimes felt the world would be a better place if only "so

and so" were not around or "such and such" did not exist.

Some people deem this censorship necessity, while still others claim that

these actions impose upon their First Amendment rights. Both sides have some

very worthwhile viewpoints, but lost in the shuffle, unfortunately, is what the

First Amendment stands for – that each of us are free to decide for ourselves

what to read and think. No matter how convinced some may be of the rightness of

their own views, they are not, however, entitled to impose those views on

others. We all have the right to attempt to convince others of our views, but

that doesn’t imply a right to blindfold or silence others in the process.

On the anti-censorship side sits the American Library Association along with

a number of other organizations. Part of this group’s attempt to further

awareness of censorship takes place in the last week in September. This campaign

is known as National Banned Book Week. This is a weeklong propaganda fest and

consciousness-raising extravaganza put on by the American Library Association’s

Office for Intellectual Freedom. The promoters use this week to parade a list of

books that they charge have been banned in libraries and schools across America,

talk about the importance of First Amendment Rights, and lament the rise of

censorship from what they consider to be the ill-informed enemies of freedom and

American democracy — a group that includes the usual conservatives and, of

course, a great number of parents and school officials.

First of all, quite a few Americans have serious problems with the sort of

radical libertarianism that the American Library Association (ALA) represents. A

majority of Americans don’t buy into the notion that public libraries should buy

anything no matter how pornographic, or that schools should teach anything, no

matter how controversial. Most Americans believe in community standards, and

they stubbornly insist that schools, libraries, and other social institutions

ought to support those standards. Even so, the real difficulty with the American

Library Association’s Banned Book Week isn’t its philosophy, however a number of

people may question the ALA’s anything-goes-approach to building a library

collection and managing a school’s curriculum. No, the real problem is the

dishonesty involved.

In my opinion, Banned Book Week isn’t really what it says it is. It isn’t a

model for freedom of speech, but rather the ALA has gone in for some serious

mislabeling here. It has misleadingly categorized the week — a serious charge

when you remember that librarians are supposed to be accurate catalogers and

labelers of things.

In all honesty, where do censorship and book banning really stand in America?

Well, very few — if any — books in this country are currently banned. You can

buy almost any title that you want, download a multitude of information from the

Web if you need to, and you can check out all sorts of things at your public

library. Nor is censorship dangerously on the rise, as the ALA would have you


The difference between what is true and what the week’s promoters claim stems

from their exaggerated notions of what constitutes censorship. In the eyes of

the ALA and its Office for Intellectual Freedom, any kind of challenge to a book

may be considered an effort at banning and any kind of complaint about a title

is called an attempt at unconscionable censorship. For a book to be labeled a

banned book in their mind, someone needs only question its place in a given

library’s collection, or wonder openly if a specific title belongs in the

children’s section. To be labeled a censor, one has only to suggest in public

that a book may not be appropriate in a given high school English class for any

number of reasons.

Let’s get real. Such challenges are not attempts at censorship, and such

complaints about books used in a classroom are not truly efforts to have certain

titles banned. The people involved in these controversies about what students

are required to read are merely speaking their minds, and no matter how much I

disagree with their beliefs, they have a right to argue their point. These

people should be able to speak up without fear of being branded enemies of the

Republic or being chastised as censors of great literature.

Parents who challenge the inclusion of a given text in a specific high school

class and citizens who openly protest a book’s inclusion in a library’s

collection are only speaking out about things that they believe in. It is an

American tradition and one that we should encourage as much as we can. It does

not make sense to ban free speech in the name of free speech. Let people speak

out about what they care about, without being branded a censor or labeled a book


Those who actually are out to ban books from high school libraries and

classrooms, on the other hand, are no better than the radicals on the other

side. These people second-guess those individuals that we have entrusted with

our children’s education on an almost constant basis. Teachers continuously

rethink their materials, and sometimes they do so in response to comments or

other reactions from students and parents. Perhaps if students were no longer

motivated by a particular book, or failed to relate to its message, it would

have been dropped from the curriculum long ago. But that is not usually the

case. If the book has been successfully used in a class for ten years, why

should a single parent’s complaint trigger a series of events ending in that

book’s removal?

If that is the case then out the window goes the notion that reading almost

anything – whether you like it or approve of it or agree with it – can be

instructional, if handled properly. Should children not be taught about the

Holocaust because we find it represents depraved conduct? If that is to be the

case, then pictures of lynching should also be banned simply because they are

offensive and terrifying. History can, without a doubt, be gruesome and even

disturbing, but how can we expect our children to make decisions about the

future without knowing the mistakes of the past? History is different, some

might say, because those things really happened. But fiction has equally

important lessons to convey, due to the fact that it provides us with other

perspectives on things that happen in life, or might happen. Stories can

represent the writer’s effort to make meaning out of confusing events, meet

difficult challenges, or simply entertain. As with history, one does not have to

like the message or even agree with it to learn something from it. Sometimes,

the most educational books are the ones we dislike, because we are forced to

think hard about why we think and feel the way we do.

Removing a book from the required reading list is censorship, pure and

simple. This is true even if other books could be equally good teaching tools

and even though the book will continue to be available as optional reading. The

teachers in towns where books are banned from their lists of available teaching

tools must feel professionally undermined and personally abandoned. Ironically,

the more difficult the subject matter and content of a book, the more desirable

it is that students read it under the direction of a teacher and have an

opportunity to discuss it and ask questions in an environment where they are

comfortable. Classic books are among the most frequently challenged books for

young adults, according to the American Library Association, and all of them

have serious literary themes and educational value. Regrettably, it’s the kids

in the public schools who are likely to suffer the most – what they’ll get for

required reading will be only the blandest, most conventional, books that nobody

could possibly object to. Boring.

In short, the American Library Association and their counterparts need to

lighten up. At the very least, they should rename their week. Those out to ban

and censor books from our classrooms based on completely uneducated rumors and

page scanning for cuss words and sexually explicit content should back off. I

agree that censorship in totality is wrong, but I also do not see how a group

that claims to stand for freedom of speech can attempt to silence those who

utilize the very right that they claim to stand for. As anyone can see, Banned

Book Week isn’t really about banned books. Banning books isn’t really about

protecting our children. It’s about feeling like we are in control of our

children’s lives when it should be about a few people having differing opinions

and caring enough to make those opinions known. The nation could use a lot more

of that, not less.

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