Does Banning Books Promote Innocence or Ignorance?

Shorecrest faculty Natalie Updike, Jake Seymour, Kristie Dowling, and Heather Elouej hold up “controversial” books from their inventory.

By: Jackie Coleman

1984 by George Orwell. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Maus by Art Spiegelman. Drama by Raina Telgemeier. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. These are just a handful of books being banned in local public school libraries and classrooms across the American South and Midwest. 

All of these proposed book bans consist of works that talk about race, gender, sexuality, religious persecution, and authoritarianism. However, these topics have been deemed too inappropriate for students by angry parents and lawmakers, like Rep. Matt Krause. Krause, a GOP politician from Texas, released a list of 850 books that he wishes to ban to avoid causing children “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of [a student’s] race or sex.” 

Moms for Liberty and other conservative groups have marched into school board meetings demanding that their children be protected from these “indoctrinating” books. How is making a student think critically indoctrination? Is it not also forcing one’s beliefs on others when you demand the censorship of books that do not specifically align with your individual values? Books have the power to make people question everything they think they know, facts and realities once considered concrete and unchangeable.

 In eighth grade, I read The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers, and it opened my eyes. That specific book finally helped me grasp institutional racism and generational trauma, yet it made me feel incredibly uneasy at times. However, those uncomfortable moments forced me to confront serious issues and think logically for myself. I asked a fellow student, Lillee Burkett, how she felt regarding recent book bans, and she feels that books “can give people different perspectives about topics” and help people relate to issues they once could not. She speaks further to explain that if hard and uncomfortable topics are not discussed in schools through literature it could push students to use other resources such as the internet that may not give the best information on these topics. 

That is exactly what a school is meant to do: teach students about subjects, good or bad, and help shape students into critical, independent thinkers. I spoke with the Head of the Upper School English Department, Jake Seymour, about this issue and asked him if he knew that many of his selected books are controversial. Seymour confirmed that he does know that many of our required readings are contentious, but that there is “a meeting between how mature students are and the content they can study.”

Seymour thinks that certain groups of the population “misremember the past, and confuse ignorance with innocence,” and I have to agree. Parents and lawmakers fight so hard to protect their children from real issues in books, as if that will shield them from reality and keep them “innocent.” The reality is that race, gender, sexuality, religious persecution, and authoritarianism are all part of our lives, and not exposing children to them through books will not make these issues disappear. It will just create less informed global citizens and perpetuate disregard for these pressing subjects in yet another generation.

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