this is an essay i wrote about book censorship last year in school. please read! and tell me what you think.
Governments and librarians have taken upon themselves authority that they should not have by banning certain books.
Book banning has been around for centuries; as long as books have been written, books have been banned. In 350 BC, Plato said about banning books while describing the ideal republic “…Our first business will be to supervise the making of fables and legends; rejecting all which are unsatisfactory…” (Claire Mullally) When books were hand-written, burning them was the best way to prevent people from reading them. But the invention of the printing press made it difficult. Early on, about 40 years after the invention of the press, laws were created all over the world; France, England, the Church, Germany, many countries required books to be proofed before they were ever printed. Some weren’t even allowed to be published. The banning in America started when puritan authorities in Massachusetts burned a religious pamphlet. Book banning is still in America today; mostly in our public schools and libraries. Many times books are removed from shelves because they contain “profanity, violence, sex, homosexuality, witchcraft, secular humanism, new age philosophies, portrayals of rebellious children, politically inaccuracy, racism, or sexist language” (Mullally) Many times, classic literature that is now on required school reading lists is also found on the banned books list, like Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, and other classic authors.
What is the purpose of banning books from our schools and libraries? To keep children’s minds safe? To keep people from forming opinions on touchy subjects, like religion, homosexuality, racism, and government policy rebellion? Books should not be banned because the choice of what we read is a personal or parental responsibility and it is against our constitutional rights.
Our first amendment to the US Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. However, there is nothing in the Constitution about the “freedom of not being offended.” With free speech, there will always be someone or some group that is offended by something they read. But that does not mean the government should jump in and take away the freedoms of the author or the freedom of choice from other people who may not be bothered by it. If someone finds something offensive in what they read, they can put it back. They aren’t forced to finish it. If a person finds a book that criticizes their beliefs or religion, that person has every right to walk away without a second look. If a person finds a book with detailed descriptions that they find offensive, they have every right to close it and put it back on the shelf. But banning books takes away the freedom promised in our rights.
If parents do not like what their kids are reading, they need to talk to their kids. “Individuals must have the freedom to choose what materials are suitable for themselves and their families…” says President Jim Rettig, American Library Association, or ALA. He also concluded that the responsibility of raising children rests with parents, and that guardians cannot expect the government to jump in and raise their children for them. "Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but unlike charity, it should end there." said Clare Booth Luce, who was an editor, play-writer, politician, journalist, and diplomat.
Parents who cannot constantly censor their kids can resort to other options. Those who don’t have time to look over their kid’s shoulders have every right and reason to be concerned for the content in the literature their children are reading. They may want, and agree, with school censorship, so they don’t have to worry about their kids finding something that they don’t want them exposed to. Although a valid argument, it would still be un-constitutional, and depending on the situation, irresponsible. The ALA claims that parents who have commitments in work and in society that have trouble shielding their children must find a way to do it regardless of their situation. It is their responsibility. It is true that certain things should not be easy for children to get to, such as gruesome detailed books or sex-related books. But it is the guardian’s responsibility, not government or library.
There are other ways to keep schools and libraries clear of “unhealthy” books. Krissy Boccia, Librarian at the New Bern Public Library, says that libraries should make careful, judicious, well thought out decisions on which books to shelve, and “encourage parents and caregivers to be involved in the selection process that each child is traversing.” Also, if asked by a parent, she is willing to discuss book checkouts and literature a minor (under age 18) has read/is reading. “I am anti-censorship, but pro-parent” she says. She is careful to try to read all new literature that comes into her department, and will recommend or advise guardians on the choices of books their children are reading if asked. The library allows parents to call and give a library number to find out what is in their child’s account, so there is some ability for adults to supervise their child’s reading habits. Krissy also tries to encourage the readers in wise choices corresponding to their maturity level. She understands that each person is different, and makes a point to get to know the person and make a recommendation based on that person, not the person’s age or grade.
But who gives the authority to say what is right and what is wrong? Who says the people who ban and censor books have it right? What’s wrong with strong language, violence, or explicit sex books? When there is no greater authority, no absolute ruler, (no God) no one person’s opinion is more right or wrong. So why the big fuss about books? Is what we see on TV any better? At least what we see on TV is rated; it gives us some kind of warning.
So do we just set all books out and let anyone read whatever they can get their hands on? Absolutely not: If I were a parent, there are things I know I wouldn’t let my kid read. I propose that books not be banned, but rather sorted and rated. A new system of classification is necessary. A system with strict guidelines on how to rate books on content, with a description on each rating provided for the adult/guardian would be a more appropriate response to concerned parents. Schools and libraries should allow parents a way of knowing what their kids have checked out at all times. A legal parent or guardian could choose to sign up for it, something either by e-mail notifications or a program that they could log into. These are better choices for controlling which books should be easy for a minor to get access to without legal guardian’s consent and which should be guarded. However, banning the books is not the answer to keep young minds pure.
Banning books gives too much power to the government and limits our freedom of speech and the press. It puts the government into the role of parents. We need to stand up, and fix the problem, not just try to avoid it, by creating a system that protects but allows the responsibility of choice.
1. Mullally, Claire. Overview [of banned books history], February 2003. “First Amendment Center”.
2. Elkins, Janet Yanosko. Forbidden Library. March 6, 2005.
Quote Clare Booth Luce quote: http://quotes.forbiddenlibrary.com/
3. Rettig, Jim. American Library Association. (date published not listed) http://www.ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pressreleases2008/September2008/OIFbookbanning.cfm
4. Mathiot, Haley. Krissy Boccia, YA Librarian, New Bern Public Library.
(Opinions shared are from an interview. All opinions shared are those of Krissy Boccia, not necessarily of the New Bern Public Library.)
5. "Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q&A," American Library Association, May 29, 2007. (Accessed November 12, 2008)
Document ID: 388255
6. Women in History. Clare Booth Luce biography. Lakewood Public Library. 11/18/08.
please do tell me if you agree or not. what are your thoughts on censorship and book banning?