On Book Bans

In the last several weeks, there’s been a lot of attention on the fact that some schools and school districts are banning books that they think are inappropriate for one reason or another. Proponents of banning certain books are arguing that by not allowing certain books in, their kids are somehow being “protected.” And then, on the other hand, opponents of the banned books are arguing that the banning of some of them in certain schools and school districts is shameful.

However, what gets lost in the whole discussion on book bans is the fact that the sense of protection that comes from book bans (among those in favor of the bans) is a false one.

But why would I say that?

Let’s think about the sorts of book bans that give some groups of parents a sense of protection: ones that focus on books with certain profanities, with certain takes on racial issues, or with characters who are openly LGBTQ+ (or with certain takes on LGBTQ+ issues), to name a few.[1] Some may think that by banning such books, access is being restricted on the topics the books address. In reality, information on all these things—the profanities, the takes on racial issues that result in certain books getting banned, and LGBTQ+ stuff—is just a Google search away. All one is doing by banning books is simply changing the medium through which many people gain access to the sort of information they might acquire through the banned book. This is one reason I say that book bans provide a false sense of protection for those in favor of the bans.

But there is another reason I argue this: one can get a book through means other than reading it at school. A book as popular as To Kill a Mockingbird is one that a curious kid could buy with some allowance money (depending on how much money it is) at the bookstore closest to school or home. Some of these books can be easily checked out at local libraries for no money at all. Many of them are available on places like Amazon, provided the parents are willing to use their credit card to purchase the book for their kid. All that banning a book does, in some cases, is allow book retailers to make money off of selling the banned book to interested and curious minds.

However, even if one didn’t seek out information on transgender people through a Google search or check To Kill a Mockingbird out of the local library, there is one inescapable fact: the issues covered in some, even many, of these banned books are issues that many of us are likely to face at some point in our lives. You can ban a book with a gay couple in it, but when a friend of yours comes out to you as gay,[2] there is no escaping LGBTQ+ issues. You can ban a book perceived as having a message that is too anti-police, but at some point, someone is likely to run into someone else who believes wholeheartedly in the message of the Black Lives Matter movement. Because of the aforementioned inescapable fact, I’m of the mind that while one’s exposure to the information in many of these banned books may sometimes be delayed, it cannot be escaped forever. It’s simply not possible in this world, short of living in an extraordinarily tight bubble (and even then, there is information that can seep in through that bubble).

The previous paragraph brings me to the real injustice with regard to book bans that needs to be talked about, which is the fact that it leaves some people unaware about certain major topics and issues in our society until confronted with those topics or issues. To me, that is a real injustice because, quite frankly, it does not seem healthy to leave people unaware until that critical point, because that is a point when decisions can be (and often are) made from a place of insecurity, ignorance, and stress—a place that can lead to bad decision-making with regard to how they treat their friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members.


[1] I’m not making this stuff up. Those are three of the things that come up the most frequently on the American Library Association’s list of most banned and challenged books over the past few years: https://www.businessinsider.com/guides/learning/banned-books-2021#george-by-alex-gino-1

[2] Yes, I have a good friend who came out to me as gay relatively early in his coming out process. True story.

17 Replies to “On Book Bans”

  1. We had an issues voting about a year or so ago, on whether or not the readers on LGBT should be there in the elemntary years, and, these book bans, are the adults’ way of thinking they can, keep their younger generations from being exposed too soon from groups, outside their own, comfort zones, but, the adults who made the policies fail to realize, if they don’t allow children to touch base on those “tabooed” matters, how much shock will thdechildren be in, when they, eventually, come across these, individuals, who are, different than themselves, and, what if, by not allowing children to, get educated on these matters, the children feared what they don’t know, and these hatd may well turn into ignorance, and even, hate too?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Like you, I am concerned about book banning and the wish to deliberately keep youth ignorant about so many crucial topics, including history and diversity. But I discovered something that brings me hope. My nephew told me he is now reading all of the books that have recently been banned by conservative school districts. He told me he wanted to see what they were about.

    He made me remember my own youth. The record store in the little town where I grew up refused to carry music by “communists” like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. That inspired me to learn their songs and sing them. Forbidding youth to do something sometimes makes them curious and a bit rebellious. I hope more follow my nephew’s example.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What you say here Carol reminds me of a conversation I had with a family member the other night to the similar effect. There were certain things that this relative said were banned or said otherwise shouldn’t have been read…and they read it all anyway!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Only time will tell what will happen, Brendan. I hope banning books makes them more interesting to youth. In the meantime, the colleague I teach with and I will continue to expose the undergraduate students we work with to as many resources as possible to raise their awareness about history, social justice, and inclusive possibilities.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I actually think that in some cases, that is happening. I don’t know if you heard about what happened to sales of the book Maus after the book got national media attention for appearing on a banned books list. (It’s currently the #1 best seller in United States Autobiographies on Amazon!)

        In the meantime, thank you and thank your colleague for the work that both of you do.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That’s good news! Thank you for sharing it, Brendan. I wish I had time to make a list of all the books that are banned to share as a recommended reading list, but there’s never enough time to these days. 🙂

        Like

  3. Hi Brendan. This is a very interesting subject to discuss. Those who feel vindicated through their actions gain an awful lot of attention with their book burnings and petitions. These people will unfortunately never change. You are so right in that there are so many alternative avenues of getting and exploring information. Heck when I was a kid I remember looking things up in a dictionary. 🤣 I think I just called myself old,

    Liked by 2 people

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