I hate to see that more and more books are being banned in the United States. According to a recent report by PEN America, the number of individual book bans across the country increased by 28 percent during the first half of the 2022-23 school year compared to the prior six months. My recent book recommendation of Maus resulted from it being banned and thus coming to my attention and interest. Here are a few infographics from PEN America on location and subject matter of recently banned books.
In many cases, books are banned or challenged in groups of sometimes up to 100+ at a time. I believe the likelihood that those who sit on panels, the ones deciding whether to ban a book or not, do not read even a small percentage of the books they are making a decision about. They likely view some page or paragraph out of context and make a decision based on a recommendation put forth by a member of the community who didn’t understand the material or possibly didn’t even read it themselves. I personally think it is hilarious that some clever people are using new legislation meant to protect/promote book bans to ban the Bible. A woman in Utah got fed up with many books being challenged when religious texts received a free pass while containing the exact type of subject matter.
I would never promote the ban or challenge of any book because removing a book from shelves doesn’t remove the idea or subject it discusses, but it does remove an individual’s choice to read that book. Perhaps it is a book that would become very important to them, perhaps it wouldn’t, and perhaps they never would have read it anyway. The issue these book bans present is a precedent to censor and hide information from people who would otherwise benefit from it. Most people challenging books are parents, and I get it as I am also a parent, but if I don’t want my child to read something then I would make that decision individually (though I’m never going to prevent my kids from reading anything) and not have the book removed from a library so no one would have access to it. It is similar to the saying “I’m on a diet, so you can’t have cake.” It’s selfish and doesn’t make much sense if you look at it objectively. I understand subject matter can be questionable and you can make cases for or against limiting access to certain materials with respect to children, but ultimately it is a case-by-case basis and the responsibility of the parent to make the decision for their individual kid. They should not be making the decision for other kids, especially if their parents do not have an issue with them reading the material.
Some people seem to be more afraid of books or ideas than they are of guns, or perhaps they are more afraid of putting their children at risk of facing a book than the barrel of a gun. This may seem harsh, but the majority of book bans are happening within education systems. Why compare books against guns? Because the discussions to ban guns in this country always hits a wall and nothing happens even though we have systems that literally track mass shootings and even shootings within schools (view the K-12 School Shooting Database or the Gun Violence Archive). In the first four months of 2023, guns have claimed more than 11,000 lives in the U.S. I’m not writing any of this to be “political,” I’m only trying to point out the absurdity of priorities happening across the country especially since history shows that ideas persist beyond any number of bullets.
The rise of book bans is very concerning to me because I believe it is more about removing/censoring information or content than about “protecting” young minds. The world is a messed up place and letting children believe that everything is okay, and have them simply accept what adults designate as dangerous, is going to make things worse, because everything is not okay. Certain groups get persecuted regularly usually based on archaic ideology that persists because people refuse to learn or accept that not everyone is exactly like them and don’t want the same things. It is a big world out there and banning books only makes it harder for kids to be prepared to face the harsh realities they will encounter as they grow older. Banning books to limit a child’s view of the world only promotes the archaic ideology that allows the view that certain people are less than human to persist, and thus the continued persecution of these people. We need to break the cycle and let kids openly see the world that they live in so they can decide how to change the future for the better.
My hope is that children find the books they need and read widely and continuously. I hope you take a similar stance and stand up to book bans, and even read those books that are being restricted to better understand what ideas are trying to be limited or extinguished. The world is too big and full of wonder to be viewed only through a microscope.