Banned Book Week runs from September 25th through October 2nd, and is a great chance to think about and consider the power of books. Most oppressed societies at one time or another have either banned reading altogether, or have banned the reading of certain books. It's interesting to consider why, and what it is that books bring to the table for us to consider. Essentially, books challenge us all to look at someone's life and see it through their eyes, right? Here are just a few of my own thoughts on book banning from my experience as a teacher.
As an English teacher, I am painfully aware of book content as I read and prepare lessons for my classes. The frequency that I hear complaints is not as high as one might think, but I do hear from parents and students alike about offensive content. Obviously, I'm respectful of an individual's right to choose their reading material and have worked with students who have a legitimate claim to not be able to read a text. We simply choose something different for them to read.
I have also found myself in the unique position of validating a lot of books that people have found unreadable. These people rarely wish the book to be removed permanently from the school library, but wish me to know and see their opinions, which I acknowledge. In fact, I really respect when a parent or guardian comes to me with questions about a novel that we can discuss. I consider it an essential part of my job to be able to explain the rationale behind a novel I've chosen to teach or suggested on my reading list. Once again, I can absolutely understand a person's right to choose the reading material of their child or to voice concerns.
While I haven't ever worked at a school where they have "banned" books, we have been asked not to teach certain novels for their content. Actually, I should say we haven't been asked not to, but discouraged. For instance, because of a pivotal scene in The Kite Runner that is deemed graphic and disturbing, we've been warned that it might be a bad idea to teach it to a class because of the complaints that might arise. Interestingly enough, many of my students have read this book, and Hosseini's other novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, both excellent novels that I have have read and loved. Rarely have I heard a complaint, but have had many students attest to the power of the message in these novels.
Experience has taught me that students will approach a book if they feel ready. Students that I thought would struggle with the content of a book have surprised me with their ability to reach greater meaning from stories I had to warn them about before reading. Does that mean a student or reader is not "savvy" or "smart" if they don't wish to expose themselves to a book with questionable content? I say no, because I respect their opinions as I would hope they would respect those who do want to read a challenged novel. As with any conflict of interest, it seems to boil down to a respect for the beliefs and thoughts of others.
For this English teacher, I believe that reading is an amazing freedom of the mind! I would hope that people would push themselves to explore good books, and to challenge themselves when the time is right.
Here is a list of Banned or Challenged Classics posted by the ALA (American Library Association). Their site also offers other suggestions for learning more about banned books.