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Censorship of Books in American Schools

Updated on January 13, 2015

Throughout the history of the United States, schools have constantly banned and challenged a number of literary works in the name of censorship. However, advocates of these novels and the writers themselves believe that students would be missing out on an essential part of their education if they are not taught the whole scope of literature, including works that contain "unpleasant" material.

These banned books range from a number of topics, genres, and eras, but all have met criteria that various government and social organizations have deemed ‘’inappropriate’’ for students to read. Many of these novels and short stories are priceless pieces of literary history and criticism, but some experts and critics believe that some content within these writings may or not be unsuitable for young adults and children to be exposed to.

But the question remains, will the ban on some educational writing ultimately protect students? Or will it limit their education by providing them with less-than-adequate knowledge about topics others deem "controversial?"

List of most commonly banned books in American schools
List of most commonly banned books in American schools | Source

The Argument for Censorship

There are a number of reasons why parents and school authorities feel the need to ban a book from being accessible in a school or public library. The most common and obvious reason is the fear that students and youths will be exposed to material that they may not be mentally or emotionally ready for. Many novels from the past as well as the modern era contain profanity and racially sensitive themes.

If students are not taught how to handle this information correctly, parents and educators believe that the young people might misinterpret these issues and view them in a positive light. The students might then use this language or these behaviors actively in their own lives. They also might not be able to fully understand the reason for the profane or lewd content, particularly in satirical novels or literature written to criticize someone/something.

The banning of some literature in schools became legal and acceptable during the harsh censorship laws of the late 19th and early 20th century. Under the Comstock Laws of 1873, it became against the law for anyone to send or receive any "obscene, lewd, or lascivious materials" through the mail.

This made it very difficult for people to send or receive literature which did not meet government approval. In accordance with the law, materials deemed unacceptable to transport were unacceptable to have or teach in schools. Variations of Comstock laws differ from state to state, but many are still in place and enforced today.

Surprising Banned Books

The Argument Against Banning Books

The banning of certain books can be particularly problematic for educators. Most teachers want their students to have a coherent understanding of literature through a number of writings and of the time periods and social situations which affected these writings.

Challenged novels graphed by reason
Challenged novels graphed by reason | Source

However, history is riddled with issues of oppression, sexism, racism, vulgarity, and competing religious movements. The stories written about, or during, these periods of conflict usually contain information which can be considered vulgar or disturbing, particularly when taken out of context.

One of the most iconic instances of this can be seen in the debate regarding Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn. In Twain’s story, a racial slur for African Americans is used a number of times by various characters. Many people who wish to ban the book feel that the characters themselves, both the protagonist and antagonists, can be considered racists, and this is inappropriate for students to be exposed to.

However, advocates of the book argue that the word was commonly used during that particular time period, and that the story overall teaches racial tolerance during a time when slavery and racial discrimination was the norm. Despite this argument, many schools feel that the frequency and ease with which the characters use the word is too risqué to be taught to children.

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The Current Situation

Other works frequently banned from schools include The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Diary of Anne Frank, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and The Crucible by Arthur Miller, as well as a number of works by Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Maya Angelou.

Many people regard these works as literature which defines the time period in which they were written, and to not study them would mean not having a full understanding of what it was like to live in those times. Yet the obscenity, societal criticism, and occasional sexual matter in many of these works are often considered too graphic for young eyes.

Source

However, according to the First Amendment to the US Constitution, all citizens have the right to freedom of speech, and this generally includes material which is written and read. Students, therefore, should have the right to access various literary works and to learn about them properly in school. If students are not taught the full scope of literature, then they might have a slightly distorted perspective of literature or of a number of time periods.

In many forms of media, some censorship may be necessary in order to protect young people from being exposed to materials that they may not be mentally or emotionally ready to handle. Sexuality, profanity, and violence may be disturbing to children and youths who have not been properly educated about the topic or are simply not mature enough to understand the true depth of these issues.

"Vulgar?" Or Part of Our History?

However, what one individual deems to be "vulgarity" may appear to another as poetry. Some may view literature that was meant to be satirical as literal and therefore miss out on the true meaning of the work. In schools, it is important to study many of the works that have been banned, since many of these books are important historically, culturally, and educationally.

"Lewd" material does exists in the world and, particularly in the modern day and age, it is very easy for young people to become exposed to it through television, music, and the Internet. Although some of the content in many of these writings may be questionable at best, what better place for children to learn about good and evil, hate and love, and the ups and downs of society than at school, through the guidance and reason of a professional educator?

How Authors Feel About Banning Books

To Ban Or Not To Ban

Governments throughout the modern era have attempted to regulate education for a variety of reasons; perhaps creating a more structured set of values, or encouraging support of local government, or even creating a mainstream standard upon which literacy and intelligence levels are based. Yet none of these reasons mentioned are more essential to progress and enlightenment that there must be a way of property educating young people, while still protecting them for as long as possible from the horrors of the world.

If educators know the proper way in which to teach these controversial stories, then theoretically no book should be banned from a public forum. Even literature which has had a tragic effect on history, such as Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler himself, can be taught in such as way as to show children what kind of propaganda NOT to fall for, and how to protect yourself from getting swept up in a movement. If they never hear about what is bad, how will they recognize evil if they've never known what it looks like?

These biographies, philosophies and stories are important to everyone's history and many cultures, and it is essential to acknowledge these controversial stories as necessary to education and necessary to pass on to future generations, as long as they are taught with an open mind and a positive message.

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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      You dealt with this subject very well. Having four children I feel we just plain should not ban. I believe right here on HP there should not be censorship. But I am resigned to live in a world with it.

    • KMSplumeau profile image
      Author

      KMSplumeau 2 years ago

      I could not agree more! Thank you for your feedback!

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 2 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      I'm an author, and I'm all for banning books! Any book with four letter words should not be read. Since my post here contains four letter words, DON'T READ IT!!!

      LOL!

      Obviously, censorship can't work if someone doesn't read it to judge. How do they handle that one?

    • KMSplumeau profile image
      Author

      KMSplumeau 2 years ago

      I couldn't agree more! Thank you for reading!

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 2 years ago from Hawaii

      I don't believe in censorship, and you're right that students should be exposed to as wide a variety in order to learn better about the world.

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 2 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      People who grow up exposed only to sanitized versions of life, thought, and history will grow up ignorant of far too much life, thought, and history for their own safety's sake.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 2 years ago from New Jersey

      I've always been a reader, and my son is a teacher. I'm shocked at the books that are banned in US school systems. I've read every book on your lists! How can anyone learn about history, or mistakes made by individuals, or by the whole world, if they are not allowed to read about them? I don't believe in censorship. Young people are exposed to a lot worse things online or in the movies they are allowed to watch. It would be refreshing to see them reading more.

    • KMSplumeau profile image
      Author

      KMSplumeau 2 years ago

      I completely agree! So many important lessons are taught in these stories, which is what makes them classics. Many children today get so much exposure to terrible things through TV and the internet, it is so sad that iconic stories are kept from them. Thank you for reading!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 22 months ago from Florida

      I did a "double take" when I saw in your first photo the Bible is banned? I can understand banning lewd books. I think books should be age appropriate, though.

    • sandeep15r profile image

      Sandeep Rathore 22 months ago from New Delhi

      It's shocking to know that a country like the US can ban the books. I'm against any kind of ban on artistic expression. Thanks for writing such an informative hub.

    • KMSplumeau profile image
      Author

      KMSplumeau 22 months ago

      I was quite surprised myself! Even if it is solely regarded for its influence on Western society the Bible is a huge part of history. It was pretty shocking to see that in many schools and even some public libraries some of the most influential pieces of writing in history are not included.

    • KMSplumeau profile image
      Author

      KMSplumeau 22 months ago

      Thanks for your feedback! It's good to know many people agree with the idea of information being shared openly. Thanks!

    • pumpkincat210 profile image

      Courtney Rhodes 22 months ago from Houston, Texas U.S.A.

      I dislike the notion of banning books. If we do that then there is an even better argument for banning 99% of what is shown on television and the internet may as well be forbidden. They are afraid of these great literary works because they often tell history and also the potential future better than textbooks.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 22 months ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Just last Saturday I had a book-banning experience. I was at a church rummage sale, where you could fill a grocery bag with anything you wanted for a dollar. A woman found a Harry Potter book, said it was of the devil, and went to throw it in the garbage! When I protested, she said it wasn't worth it to make money off the devil's work. I said what if someone threw away the Bible because they didn't believe in it? She said that was their priviledge.

      She wound up giving me the book for free. Since I already had it in my collection, I gave it to one of my roommates, who had been looking for it.

    • Jonas Rodrigo profile image

      Jonas Rodrigo 20 months ago

      Great topic and great hub!

    • KMSplumeau profile image
      Author

      KMSplumeau 20 months ago

      SayYes, that's great! It's sad that that woman was so judgmental, but at least you got a new HP book!

      And thank you Jonas!

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