This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Pinnapa (Pinny) Phetcharatana English 10 CH Mr. Dave Herold April 30, 2009
The Truth Behind Banned Books
Joseph Henry Jackson once asked, “Did you ever hear anyone say that ‘a work had better be banned because I might read it and it might be very damaging to me’?” This rhetorical question brings up an excellent point; but to really respond, the answer would probably be no. People write and publish works in order to communicate ideas and messages to the world, particularly the younger generations. Yet, the censorship of novels acts as an obstacle to this right. Forbidding children to read certain literature novels that seem to be “too obscene or sexual”, or in other words, “too real”, without being entitled to their say could be considered an act of patronization towards them. To ban a book is much similar to banning an idea. Since literature offers all kinds of knowledge, preventing a child from reading a particular book is basically preventing them from learning about life. The purpose of acquainting children with novels that contain uncomfortable topics is not to corrupt their minds, but to allow them a head start of learning how to deal with problems in life and to accept differences in a transforming society. The famous cliché, “Parents always want what’s best for their children,” can no longer justify censorship. What would a child become if he or she were able to master difficult academic-related subjects but know nothing of alcohol, drugs, or sex? Censoring novels imposes harmful effects on children, insults their intelligence, blocks out meaningful themes that can be explored, and prevents the flow of new and diverse ideas. Children, therefore, have every right to explore life freely through a variety of literature, and book censorship must not interfere with this freedom.
Professor Kevin W. Saunders at Michigan State University, College of Law, argues that
society has failed to nurture its youth properly (Nakaya, 26). To explain this idea, he presents statistics relating to teenage violence, pregnancy, and drug and alcohol abuse and associates it with explicitness and obscenity being exposed to children through literature. However, there has been no evidence to support the fact that the explicitness of children’s novels actually leads to acts of wrongdoings. In reality, censorship of literature is what causes misunderstandings among the youth. When one is banned from reading a book, he/she will be driven to search for facts somewhere else. The reliability of other sources may not be guaranteed, which may lead to an uncertainty of the topic. Furthermore, censorship causes children to become ignorant of reality. Avoiding so-called “uncomfortable topics” such as sex and homosexuality will cause unawareness of STD’s, birth control, and same-sex marriages among teens (“Censorship In Schools and the Effects on Our Children”). For example, Michael Willhoite’s Daddy’s Roommate tells the story of a young boy whose father moves in with his boyfriend, and the couple is shown cleaning, eating, and sleeping together throughout the story (McGwire). This novel immediately sparked a controversy among critics, namely, adults who are attached to traditional lifestyles of a parent with the mother and father following the usual roles (McGwire). Other parents who are more liberal do not mind sharing the idea with their children. Similarly, preventing children from being exposed to obscenity will make them naïve to the outside world. Jean Karl explains, “If we try to hide information relating to sexual explorations, teenage drug abuse or violence, it’s like keeping children in a box, trapped and blinded from what is real (Day, 36).” Additionally, censorship causes blank gaps to form on children’s life knowledge, for it restricts children from being able to grow mentally and independently. Rebellious qualities may also be the result of book banning if children are aware that authentic information is out of their reach (Gottfried). Accordingly, children must steer away from unhealthy results that book
censorship brings about. Literature, no matter how obscene or violent, opens doors that will allow new concepts to flow through. It is a parent’s duty to discuss uneasy topics with their children rather than ignoring them completely and sweeping those ideas under a rug (Olson). Using a novel’s content to guide children, parents can explain how particular techniques such as brutal scenes have an effect on readers. Parents should make clear to their children why many adults are afraid to expose the following contents to children (“Parents, Kids, and Banned Books: Young Readers Benefit From Guidance, Not Censorship”). Feedbacks should be encouraged from children since it allows them to have a say on the matter. Discussing banned books with children and allowing them to respond will initiate open and honest discussions, which would improve parent-to-child relationships. Giving feedbacks also help children understand the connection between a novel and real-life issues, such as differences in culture and sexuality among society (Olson). In-depth thinking skills will develop once they are familiar with new ideas. Additionally, both their interpretation and analysis skills will progress as they use their prior knowledge to find significance in different point of views (Richards). Novels that cover uncomfortable topics launch children into a realm of imagination, giving them an opportunity to develop new insights on the world around them. Unbelievably, meaningful life lessons are taught through the so-called “inappropriateness”. For instance, Robert Cromier’s The Chocolate War contains highly explicit contents that many parents disapprove of, which includes sweating, urination, bad language, daydreaming about girls’ breasts, and other sexual desires. Briefly, the characters in this book are just like real kids, but perhaps too real for some adults (Day, 34). Adults often feel uncomfortable and doubt their children can handle such “realism” (Olson). In Mark Twain’s The 4
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the fact that the term “nigger” is being used several times in the novel disturbs many parents (Shupe). However, Twain uses this term to point out the evilness of slave trade and how racial conflicts took place in the past. This point may as well be used to teach students to not be racist and to accept differences in ethnicities. Another example includes Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, which contains adultery in its plot. Many parents consider this as unacceptable to their children (Shupe). Again, the element of adultery could be explained to children as a crime. A meaningful discussion on how adultery is handled differently in Scarlet Letter’s Puritan culture than in the world today teaches children how traditions evolved over a period of time, showing us the revolutionized world that everyone lives in today. Thus, profanity and explicit materials should not be misinterpreted as an unapproachable element of fiction, for they actually clarify the themes that are being explored in the novel. To censor or place ratings on a novel is an insult to a child’s intelligence. Society must accept the fact that different children have ranging maturity levels; some are more mature than others (Olson). Jane Breskin Zalben comments, “Children I find are so open and open-hearted, and it is terrible to see an uptight person close that mind to the possibilities out there (“The Kids Right to Read Project”).” Moreover, who is it to decide which books are being censored and which are not (Scales)? First of all, there is no consistent standard or definition of what is “proper.” J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series, for example, have caused disputes among literature critics. Critics argue whether the series introduce harsh anti-family themes through the protagonist’s dislike for his aunt and uncle, or, on the other hand, feelings of love and admiration towards his deceased parents (Casares). Another matter to consider is the theme of supernaturalism and wizardry that many parents believe is inappropriate (“Who Should Censor Your Children’s Books?”). Once again, literature critics insist that the wizardry theme is an asset
to the novel that allows children to be able to draw the line between fantasy and reality (Casares). Another example of the inconsistency of censoring standards is the varying viewpoints of each censorship regulator. How is it possible to know whether censorship regulators actually represent an individual’s own interest (Scales)? One topic could have different meanings on different people. Furthermore, most books that are most highly regarded among the youth are the ones that raise suspicions among adults, leading parents to make uncertain assumptions in order to keep their children away from inappropriate material. Charles Taylor quotes that censorship is “an insult to kids, a presumption that they are too stupid or fragile to be given information about the real world (Nakaya).” Parents, teachers, or librarians should not ban books from the young in order to feel more in control of their lives; they must understand that their minds hold great intellect and a thirst for new knowledge. Children, if given the chance, will definitely opt for having the privilege to adopt new and unknown ideas. There is no “right age” for them to finally learn about reality; teaching and guiding them upon their curiosity is the best option, and it will easily allow them to independently grow mature. “How do children who have been so stringently shielded be wellprepared for life (especially at age eighteen- ‘poof!’- They magically become ‘adults’)?” quoted Charles Taylor (Nakaya). It must be accepted that seemingly offensive materials are placed in a novel with a purpose, and, as mentioned, it is an adult’s responsibility to guide young readers through it. Thus, certain literature should not be censored, for this stands in the way of students’ right to investigate the natures of life. If the negative impacts that censorship imposes everyday continue to worsen, our youth’s minds will suffer. Who knows what will become of their futures and, on a larger scale, the world’s future?
Anderson, Jim. “The Truth Behind the ‘Grapes’ Wrath in ‘Obscene’: John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize- Winning Novel Was Banned by the Very California County it Made
Famous.” Star Tribune 30 Nov. 2008. EBSCO. Griffith Library, Ruamrudee International School, Bangkok. 24 Feb. 2009 <http://search.ebscohost.com>. “Beacon For Freedom of Expression.” Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression. 23 Feb. 2009 <http://www.beaconforfreedom.org/ >. Casares, Allyson J. “The Effect of Book Banning on Child Culture: A Close Look at The Harry Potter Series.” The Mentor. Volume 8, Number 3 (2004). “Censorship in Schools and The Effects On Our Children.” Lifescript.com. 23 Feb. 2009 .<http://www.lifescript.com/Life/Family/Kids/Censorship_In_Schools_And_The_Effec ts_ On_Our_Children.aspx >. Chandler, Michael Alison. “Banned Books, Chapter 2: Conservative Group Urges Library to Accept Collection.” The Washington Post. 3 Oct. 2008: B01. Day, Nancy. Censorship or Freedom of Expression. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 2001. Gottfried, Ted. Open For Debate: Censorship. Tarrytown: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, 2006. Leventis, Angie.”Parents Want to Restrict Book with Gay Themes.” St Louis PostDispatch 16 Nov. 2006. SIRS Researcher. Griffith Library, Ruamrudee International School, Bangkok. 24 Feb. 2009 < http://sks.sirs.com/ >. Martinson, David L. "School Censorship: It Comes in a Variety of Forms, Not All
Overt." Clearing House 81.5 (May 2008): 211-214. Professional Development Collection. EBSCO. Griffith Library, Ruamrudee International School, Bangkok. 24 Feb. 2009 <http://search.ebscohost.com/>.
Mazer, Norma Fox. “Shhhh!” The Alan Review. Volume 24 (1997): Page 46-48. McGwire, Scarlett. Censorship: Changing Attitudes 1900 – 2000. Austin: Raintree SteckVaughn Publishers, 2000. Nakaya, Andrea C. Opposing Viewpoints Series: Censorship. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2005. “The Kid’s Right to Read Project.” National Coalition Against Censorship. NCAC. 21 Feb. 2009 < http://www.ncac.org/Kids-Right-to-Read >. Olson, Mari. “Censorship Meets Its Challenge: Banned Book Author Promotes Talking About Uncomfortable Topics, Not Banning Them.” The Daily Republic 25 Sept. 2008. EBSCO. Griffith Library, Ruamrudee International School, <http://search.ebscohost.com>. “Parents, Kids, and Banned Books: Young Readers Benefit From Guidance, Not Censorship.” American Library Association. 23 Feb 2009 … <http://184.108.40.206/search?q=cache:XmzZqCyCr_sJ:www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offi ces/ … of/basics/bannedbookspage.pdf+effect+of+censoring+children%27s+books+spark s+curio…sity&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=10&client=safari >. Richards, Jillian. “Censorship of Daddy’s Roommate.” Peer Review of Student Essay. Bangkok. 24 Feb. 2009
Henry Ford Community College. 24 Feb. 2009 <http://adm.hfcc.edu/~pkearly/PeerReview15/pages/Essay8.htm>. Scales, Pat. “What’s Going On.” School Library Journal May 2008: Volume 54, Issue 5: 30. EBSCO. Griffith Library, Ruamrudee International School, Bangkok. 24 Feb. 2009 <http://search.ebscohost.com>. Shupe, Jaclyn. “Censoring the English Curriculum.” Northern Illinois University. 23 Feb. 2009 … <http://220.127.116.11/search?q=cache:k2Xfx2rsYAcJ:www.cedu.niu.edu/~shumow/ itt/C …. ensoringEnglishCurriculum.pdf+effects+of+censorship+of+books+on+children&hl =en&….ct=clnk&cd=9&client=safari>. “Through the Eyes of a Child.” Censorship: Wielding the Red Pen. University of Virginia. 23 Feb. 2009 < http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/exhibits/censored/child.html >. Whelan, Debra Lau. “A Dirty Little Secret.” School Library Journal Feb 2009: Volume 55, Issue 2: 26-30. SIRS Researcher. Griffith Library, Ruamrudee International School, Bangkok. 24 Feb. 2009 <http://sks.sirs.com>. “Who Should Censor Your Children’s Books?” About.com: Forums. The New York Times Company. 23 Feb. 2009 … <http://forums.about.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?msg=170.1&nav=messages&lgnF=y& webtag…=ab-childrensbooks>.