Writing the truth

A recent wave of book bannings pose a threat to the integrity of high school libraries.


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Books are coming off of library shelves as banning controversy sweeps the nation.

In literature classes being taught across the country, it is hard not to notice the complete lack of diversity being presented to the young and malleable minds of future generations. The majority of books being taught in the educational system shine a spotlight on white male authors while simultaneously pushing more diverse stories written by people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community into the background. These underappreciated stories are also being challenged —and eventually, banned— by state schools across the US for various reasons. 

For a book to be banned, it needs to first be challenged. In short, a challenge is known as an attempt to remove or restrict a piece of literature because of an objection from a person or group of people. Then (if the challenge is successful), that challenge leads to the banning or removal of the piece from the shelves. 

In more recent years, book bans have been largely caused by parents of students encouraging their district to remove books that showcase racism, highlight discrimination of any type, or that contain any representation of the LGBT+ community. On top of this, some political and religious groups are demanding the removal of books they deem inappropriate. 

It’s recently come to light that the books being challenged are all works of literature that highlight a minority group or controversial topic, which in turn hinders the education of students who are only learning one side of history. In 2019, 8 out of the 10 top challenged books were written by women, with the other two being written by a non-binary person and a man respectively. In 2018, people of color were authors of 3 of the top 11 challenged books, and taking into account both the two statistics, fourteen out of the twenty-one books were banned for containing some type of LGBTQ+ content. 

In 2019 alone, 8 out of the 10 books banned were about some form of LGBTQ+ issues. One book included in this statistic was “George” by Alex Gino. “George” is a children’s book about a transgender girl who goes through the process of coming to terms with herself. This book was banned because of the belief that “schools and libraries should not put books in a child’s hand that require discussion,” a perspective that seems to reflect a past period in time as opposed to the 21st century where educating students on different topics and issues is supposedly crucial to a well-rounded education. 

In 2018, one of the most commonly banned books was “The Hate U Give”, by Angie Thomas. This is a story about a young black girl who protests police brutality after her best friend from childhood is shot. The book is a work of fiction, but it forces people to reflect on the issues of racism and police brutality, two of the most prominent real-world issues today. This book was banned by several states for being “anti-cop.” “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee has also been challenged and removed from many schools because of its “racial hatred, racial division, and racial separation” paired with the book’s “adult themes.”

More recent books like the “Harry Potter” series by J.K Rowling have drummed up controversy from religious groups. J.K. Rowling’s well-known series has also been removed from libraries as well as many different schools. In Nashville, Tennessee, the series was removed from the school library by the school pastor after he claimed that “the curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.” The series is gradually becoming the most controversial book of the 21st century.

The issue of book banning is a growing problem throughout the entire country, and current events have only served to prove this issue won’t fade anytime soon. In just the past few weeks, Tennessee legislators passed a bill that will let the state commission approve school library books. This recently approved bill will allow a state-appointed textbook commission the power to approve or reject a list of materials in public school library collections and deem if the materials are considered inappropriate. 

This bill has created a ton of controversy between government representatives. Regarding the matter of censoring literature in schools, Representative John Ray Clemmons stated “why are we usurping the authority of librarians and placing the state in the palace of deciding what’s appropriate and what’s not for your children?” In response to this, Tennessee state Representative Jerry Sexton stated that there were books in school libraries that could be labeled “obscene in nature” or not age-appropriate. He aims to remove all books he and a select group of people deem “inappropriate.” This will no doubt lead to the further diminishment of different perspectives, including the voices of people of color and those of the LGBTQ+ community. Regardless, the passing of this bill is huge for the book banning debate as Tennessee joins the terrifyingly large number of states looking to silence different perspectives and variations of literature. If things continue to progress as they have been, citizens across the country may start seeing a drastic increase in censoring brilliant works of literature that deserve to be appreciated. 

The issue of banning beautiful pieces of literature has grown into such a large issue that the ALA (American Library Association) has started a “Banned Books Week”, an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read literature. According to the official Banned Books Week website, this event tries to draw attention to this nationwide issue stating that “by focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.” This event was started in 1982 in an attempt to combat the influx of challenges to books in schools, libraries, and bookstores across the country. Banned Books Week typically takes place the last week of September, bringing together literature lovers of all types in support of the freedom to seek and express.