Some Thoughts on “Book Banning”

This article had been selected as one of the top four in a contest for the New York Times. Students were asked to write an opinion piece on the topic of book banning.

Nika Anderson, Editor-in-Chief

Book banning is a vague and broad term that cannot be precisely defined by those who argue about it. There is a stark difference between banning a book from an educational institution and a public library. As I am from a former Soviet country, I personally believe that society must retain cultural decency. I do not associate myself with that authoritarian regime by any means, but some forms of organization can be shared. Most of the problematic books in question are vapid young adult fiction novels that most schools can do better without. I have a bias and tend to look at this problem through a post-communistic lens that many may not agree with. Modesty is a virtue ingrained in my senses and it dismays me to see society degenerate to this level. I believe that some form of censorship must exist within an academic climate, but public libraries and bookstores can stock whatever the people desire.

Those who argue against book banning claim that diverse voices are being oppressed and that children must read about confrontational topics. However, this logic promotes a cult of leftist ideology that rewards low-quality writing. I personally abhor certain young adult novels for how juvenile and obscene they are in an academic establishment. Out of common sense, adolescents should explore mature topics outside of the academic setting. These authors are using perverse themes as their primary selling point and most of their writing is excessively provocative with no redeeming qualities. Indecent and personal matters are being normalized under the guise of being progressive, which has imperiled societal modesty. Extreme liberals are not concerned with the problem at hand, but rather with the expansion of their agenda. They are more concerned that their first-world problems and identity politics that they incessantly preach are being criticized. This is promoting a harmful culture that apotheosises pretentious modern authors who write low-standard content.

On the other hand, I vehemently disagree on many points with the right-leaning proponents of book banning. I noticed that Republican politician Matt Krause does not want students reading about civil rights and objective history books that document truth. It is staunchly dictatorial to be withholding truth from the people, as it was a grave evil of the USSR. I personally believe children are undereducated about America and are ignorant about our history in the latter half of the twentieth century. There is little  glasnost, or clarity regarding topics such as war crimes, terrorism, and other injustices that are fairly obscured in learning plans. Yes, this subject matter is controversial, but it is a factual reality and is nonfiction. The past cannot be changed, but history can. I disagree with the radical right when they try to ban books like Maus because this book is based on real events. Fiction novels that portray an honest approximation of history, such as To Kill a Mockingbird have no business being banned or challenged. Some conservatives are trying to whitewash history when they call for these books to be removed from schools.

This argument also has an important facet that must be taken into account when reviewing what goes into a school library. The quality of writing affects the desirability of a book and the genre. At its worst, the contemporary young adult genre often can be poorly-written, include shallow themes, and not possess significant depth. Most writers who target a teenage audience undermine an adolescent’s capacity to read much more complex books and this miscalculation insults their intellect. The unoriginality of these books does not challenge a young, developing mind that has space for much better literature. In Ukraine, children read The Three Musketeers in elementary school and are not bothered by the lack of other reading options. I feel that schools are not being restrictive when they make better choices of which books to stock. In my culture, this is not referred to as book banning, but rather, making value-based decisions. Some may say that this argument is purely subjective, but there is a standard for literature that must exist out of common sense. Believing that this argument is a matter of taste would make a person equate a shoddy modern writer like Rupi Kaur to Shakespeare. Some classic works may feature an undesirable theme, but the refined diction or talent of the author conveys this matter in sensible and cultured writing. A school should be a climate of learning and adding useful knowledge into a student’s inner reserves.

Schools must stock books that will promote the advancement of linguistic skills rather than mire children in a cesspool of monotonous young adult fiction. This can be done through selectively choosing books based on literary merit. Schools need to rethink how much money is being allocated to include TTYL and other similar rubbish on their shelves. In this age, most children have unfettered access to online media where they can read whatever they please without disturbing the learning environment. Instead of creating conflict in a classroom, overly controversial novels should be reserved for public libraries or bookstores. This way, an objectionably transgressive book will still be available for reading to the general public. Just because a book is challenged by critics does not mean that freedom is being taken away. We must advocate for truth and good authorship. We demand better quality of writing. 

We demand a perestroika.