To ban a book

There has been a growing movement to take certain books off of our library shelves. If this action is taken, our freedom as students will fall victim.


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All viewpoints are bound to be different; removing just one leads to a slippery slope.

Oliver Hinson, President - Website Manager

Ideas are a source of causation to innovation and progress, among other developments. The most direct effect, however, is resistance. 

Mankind is not programmed to think the same thoughts or believe the same beliefs; as such, we will never speak the same words, and we will never be without discordance. This continuity presents a necessity, but also a difficult truth to internalize, which might explain why we fight against it so often. We have taken such a hostile attitude towards something so guaranteed, like a scientist trying with all his might to stop the wind from blowing, failing to see both the impossibility of his task and the implications of what would happen if he somehow found success. 

In this climate, even using “discordance” is a risk on my part, as its connotation threatens to undermine the point I’m trying to make. Although the dictionary interprets the word simply as a lack of consistency and uniformity, the public takes a negative view. Wars are caused by discordance, after all; why would we support something that promises carnage and destruction? But it is important to realize that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

We try desperately to avoid conflict and maintain peace, and yet the largest bloodshed occurs when we are successful in this pursuit. Without the presence of argumentation, fundamental wrongs are preserved, and the biggest sufferers are humans. This is why we stormed Normandy, and why we have fought to bring down terrorism. Genocide, starvation, tyranny – all of these are enemies of discordance. Our heroes are symbolic of the ideal, and somehow, we find ourselves worshipping them while averting what they stand for. We say we are proponents of liberty, but we prevent freedom’s biggest beneficiary from delivering us what we desire. 

After centuries as a nation, millennia as a species, one would assume this lesson had been learned, and though it has been in many ways, I am still troubled as a citizen to see our failures in this area. Chief among these is the banning of books in schools; according to the American Literature Association, over 273 titles were challenged last year. Every day, it seems, we find another politician ranting about the dangers of the “leftist agenda” being fed to students, or a school board removing literature from shelves on the grounds of “uncomfortableness” or “obscenity.” Not only are these claims mostly baseless and exaggerated, but they pose a threat to our democracy if taken seriously, which seems to be the case right now. If we remove access to knowledge, our freedoms face a slippery slope.

I could list a million reasons for this assertion, but I think it’s most important to start with the history. The suppression of knowledge has long possessed a foothold on society, and with the examples presented to us by the past, we can glean an understanding of why this development still has such a presence. Commonly referenced as the first example of administrative censorship is Ancient Rome, a society where the attitudes and behaviors of the citizens were under the control of the government itself, an empire that was primarily focused on the consolidation of power rather than the well-being of citizens. In this specific instance, it was common policy to ban literature that went against the beliefs and values of the emperor. Generally speaking, though, maintaining such unbending authority rests on the principle that knowledge must be recognized as a threat and eradicated; take Robespierre, who in later years would overthrow the French government and deliver the promise of liberty to all citizens. With every member of the monarchy that he dismembered, he carried the belief that “the secret of freedom lies in educating people.” When the public is allowed to hear facts or opinions that contradict the government’s positions, they may be allowed to harness the full power of their mind in order to make an informed decision, the greatest weapon they possess. With too many of these independent decisions floating around, the uniformity that allows for the tyrant’s power to be preserved is gone, and we arrive at our previously mentioned discordance. 

Of course, in this scenario, it is easy to see the necessity, as all those with reasonable opinions recognize tyranny as an evil presence. So why is it that we cannot see eye-to-eye on banning books? The withholding of literature (and therefore knowledge) in Rome and other dictatorships is a means of tempering dissent, something we should commonly understand as morally wrong, as it allows for autocracy. More importantly, though, the autocracy is allowed to masquerade as democracy, which makes the situation all the direr. After all, it is much easier to recognize the wrongdoings of tyranny when they are presented in the open, but because a tyrant is a clever villain, he makes every attempt to hide. He allows for “elections,” but does not allow for other parties. He allows for support, but not for opposition. The limitations he places on the distribution of knowledge allow for the people to use their “vote” not in a way that their conscience would tell them, but in a way that the propaganda and one-sided influence have made them. America has forever opposed such authoritarian regimes, devoting billions of dollars and an impressive volume of political rhetoric to their prevention. Yet, we move further towards becoming one of them with every book removed from a shelf.

Here, I could always argue the points of Nazi Germany and communist China, but these situations are played out, and any insight I could bring is likely unoriginal. Our country’s history of banning literature, however, provides a unique look into the very contradictions that make up our foundation, and into why we cannot seem to recognize the magnitude of our mistakes. It has long been a parroted point that our promises of unalienable rights are not extended to all people, and the most important way in which this has been achieved is the limitations of knowledge. It was assuredly not a coincidence that by the 1830s and 1840s, laws were passed that prohibited slaves from reading and writing, in ALL circumstances. Similarly, it was no mistake that Harriet Beecher Stove’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was widely banned upon publication for “holding pro-abolitionist views and arousing debates on slavery,” according to the Freedom Forum Institute. The South’s socio-economic structure hinged on slave labor during this time period, so it makes absolute sense that they would object to a lack of agreement in the viewpoint that slavery was necessary. It also makes absolute sense that this circumstance could be equated to Stalin, Hitler, and the likes; there was certainly a reason that none of these regimes allowed for opposition. Many Americans are not comfortable with this comparison, though, and they assert that we have fought against these countries for the very violations that I am describing; of course, they are right, but what they inadvertently prove is that our hostile international relations are often built on hypocrisy. Look no further than the Cold War and subsequent Red Scare of the 1950s, arguably the most combative position we have taken against another country. We rallied against the Soviets for their authoritarian ways and the lack of freedoms that their citizens enjoyed, and all the while, libraries were pulling “leftist” books (including the Communist Manifesto) from shelves, writers’ lives were being ruined for the simple crime of dispute, and the citizens of our nation had more to fear by somehow threatening the power of the United States government than by living in the dystopia that was described to them through propaganda every day. It has forever seemed that our exalted “freedoms” hinge not on the ability to think for ourselves, but on our liberation from an enemy that has been chosen and demonized by our leaders.

In our present bipartisanship, this “enemy” is often, unfortunately, our own people; the most effective political smear campaigns are based on the fear that the opposition is inherently spreading evil, despite their only offense being opposition in the first place. This is clearly and obviously a smokescreen for the maintenance of power, and if we have come to the conclusion that this maintenance rests on the absence of knowledge, then we must come to a likewise determination that the mostly partisan efforts to ban literature in schools today is a result of the effort to preserve influence from oneself and limit influence from outsiders. Simply look at the confronted books of today. According to the American Literature Association, the most challenged novel of 2020, George, written by Alex Gino, faces resistance for “conflicting with a religious viewpoint and not reflecting ‘the values of our community.’” Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak is “thought to contain a political viewpoint.” Toni Morrison’s Beloved contains “themes of race” and “anti-police messages,” as well as the most dangerous element of a written work today, “divisive language.”

Accounts of the black experience, the Native American experience, the LGBTQ+ experience – all of these are treacherous because they uncover. They are, in today’s world, some of the greatest examples of watchdog journalism, for they reveal truth–vicious, perilous truth. If students are to read these works, they might discover the horrific reality of what it is like to live as a marginalized group. They might realize the wrongdoings of their trusted leaders, those who have promised to protect the rights of citizens and simultaneously ignored their oath. Most of all, they might be inclined to take a different position, representing a threat to the status quo.

Of course, they will do this because they recognize evil; the heroes that change this world are the ones that acknowledge that there is something wrong with it. Without badness and corruption, the efforts of change are not required, and the state of affairs may continue unchecked. This continuity is what the perpetrators of villainy and wickedness desire, but instead of purging their activity, they take the next best course: hiding. After all, if no one can see that there is anything wrong, no one will be inclined to make change. This, in essence, is how politicians and governmental bodies can benefit from the absence of literature; if they can remove the perceived need for change from society, then they will effectively eliminate the driving force behind it. In a future where this has been completely eliminated, we have no freedom to enjoy whatsoever.

Now, I must recognize that there are multiple facets to the efforts I have observed, and I have not fully acknowledged some which deserve merit. Alongside the movement to ban literature is a similar one to reform curriculum, something done in order to avoid indoctrination. At face value, I cannot argue against this; after all, the inclusion of knowledge and multiple viewpoints is essential in order to allow citizens to make decisions based on their own thinking. If we are simply taught to believe one thing, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s from an educator or a dictator; it is equally dangerous. This is not a library, where students are allowed the choice to consume whatever views they would like. This is a classroom, where students are taught subjects believed to be important. If these subjects suddenly turn one-sided, then there is a case for indoctrination. 

But this qualifier falls short. In my 12 years of school, it has never been my experience that teachers are impressing their views upon me. Rather, we are taught through facts, and if there are subjective viewpoints associated with the issue, we are introduced to all. Today, the largest example of this education discrepancy is the ever-growing label of “critical race theory,” a concept that evaluates the intersection between race and society. First and foremost, I must mention that any assertion which tries to argue that we are being taught this is dead wrong. Critical race theory is not part of our curriculum, nor will it ever be. In the context of race, we are taught about the abolitionist movement, arguments over slavery, Jim Crow laws, and other such aspects of our history. The key difference, of course, is that we are not taught viewpoints and theories as if they are inherently true. Since they are subjective in nature, we are simply taught about them. We are given statistics, documents, and anecdotes which illuminate the attitudes and actions of the people throughout our history – on both sides of the issue – and we are allowed to draw our own conclusions from them. This is what preserves our freedom as learners; we are allowed to use our own human intellect and act on the basis of what we truly believe in. This is the basis of liberty.

Contrastingly, banning knowledge is the enemy of liberty. The elimination of any viewpoint is recognition that it is somehow dangerous to an agenda, and it is a step towards the dystopian novels that teach us exactly what happens when these lessons are ignored. It is fundamentally wrong to dispel opposition, and when these measures are taken, the indoctrination that is sought to be avoided is actually strengthened. So, in my own life, my own school, I invite anyone to take a look at the books on our shelves. I am comfortable with anyone who wants to inspect the curriculum we teach to our students. All of these things deserve to be inquired about. But if someone ever tries to inhibit my ability and the ability of others to seek and gain knowledge, they will be met with swift opposition. In conclusion, I offer this warning: never underestimate the power of a student with passion.