Happy Banned Books Week, everyone!
Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association
As I’ve pointed out before, the American Library Association has designated the last week in September as Banned Books Week. During this week, they celebrate freedom of speech by raising awareness of censorship and challenges to free expression and the right to access information, no matter how controversial it may be.
Find a list of 2014’s most challenged books here. And here is a list of banned and challenged classics. You can participate in this expression of our fundamental right by reading banned books and by encouraging others to do so.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s website defines censorship as follows:
Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.
Why is it so crucial that we speak out against this? Let’s cite a historical example. On 10 May 1933, university student sympathizers of the Nazi Party burned thousands of books they felt held “anti-German” sentiments. You can read more about that event here.
Such an image would horrify not only book lovers but those who believe that everyone should have free access to ideas and information. The Nazis did not want people to read certain books or materials; they wanted to provide those people with their own ideology. They did not want any dissenters. We know what happened to the latter–they ended up in concentration camps alongside Jewish, Romany, Catholic, homosexual, disabled, and other folks who either did not fit Hitler’s Aryan ideal or who spoke out against the racism and totalitarianism of the Deutsches Reich.
Censorship like the Nazis perpetrated makes it easier to control people. Without all information, people cannot make informed decisions or choices. The person or persons controlling the information find it easier to convince them of their own rhetoric, or even brainwash them.
We can see a similar rhetoric in today’s media bias, when journalists (and I use the term loosely here) publish stories designed to capture clicks or ratings. “If it bleeds, it leads” is an old news term, meaning the more sensationalistic the headline or teaser, the more likely readers and viewers are to jump on it.
When people restrict information, we don’t get the full picture. We can’t make good decisions or spot potential problems because we remain unaware of issues.
Lack of sex education is a good example. Some folks believe that kids should not receive sex education in schools, because it might tempt them to have sex. Well I’ve got news for those people–a good number of those kids are going to have sex anyway, regardless of whether they’ve been told not to. Even adults have trouble controlling those drives; they’re that powerful.
So if people are going to do it anyway, they should have some education about how to do it safely. Many kids don’t get sex education at home. Their parents don’t take the time to do it, they don’t want to discuss it for religious or other reasons, or they lack knowledge themselves. Schools may choose not to teach it, but if kids don’t learn it, they aren’t prepared to make good decisions about their bodies, their health, and their futures.
Dutch schools start teaching sexuality education in kindergarten. Because they are exposed to this information as a natural part of life, Dutch kids start out with better sexual health habits than Americans do. They know about:
- How their own bodies work
- Sexual identity and gender issues
- Love and relationships
- Safe sex
- Ways to protect themselves from abuse
Besides informative material, fiction often finds itself the target of censorship. Art is subjective; what pleases one person may shock another. But does that mean no one should see a particular work? Many of the books that end up on the ALA’s challenged lists get there because they contain fictionalized accounts of sexual behavior, abuse, drug use, or something else complainants find objectionable.
People read for entertainment, but they also like to read about characters with whom they can identify. A bullied, lonely, or discouraged kid may find courage in a story about another kid in the same situation. A person who knows nothing about a subject can become fascinated with it when it pops up in a novel. Learning is almost never a bad thing.
Restricted material cannot inform. It cannot lift people out of poverty. It cannot help them better their health, or learn how to care for themselves and their loved ones. It cannot entertain them or make them think, or help them understand the viewpoints of people who are different from them. It cannot mitigate prejudice, and it cannot perpetuate tolerance and understanding.
So read a banned book this week. Better yet, recommend one to a friend or family member. Spread the word!