Social groups, including religious organizations, parents, and school administration among others, make decisions daily about what material will become a part of the regular school curriculum and what material will be excluded. Many decisions are made based on the educational value of text books and other learning material. However, many decisions are unfortunately made without educational potential in mind, but rather on the basis of what is considered to be profane or proper based on the opinions of certain people that feel they have the moral authority to make such decisions. American schools have always been built on the principle that children must be protected from that which is inappropriate for them to see, hear, or experience. "American schools have been pressured to restrict or deny students access to books or periodicals deemed objectionable by some individual or group on moral, political, religious, ethnic, racial, or philosophical grounds." (NCTE) Although strict ruler-wielding classroom control freak teachers patrolling student activities from a moral high-horse may be considered a trend of the past, recent decades have actually been full of trends allowing for strict banning or censoring of books and other material. Teachers that wish to expose children to a wide array of information and literary sources find themselves stifled and restricted, and they expect that these difficulties will remain an unfortunate part of the educational struggle as restrictions are put on classes and libraries. It is impossible for teachers to build curriculum plans that are free from the potential to be challenged as obscene or inappropriate because "any work is potentially open to attack by someone, somewhere, sometime, for some reason; [and] censorship is often arbitrary and irrational." (NCTE) From the classics like Shakespeare or Melville to modern material such as National Geographic magazine, almost anything can be considered offensive or controversial in some way.
The 1990's were a particularly active time period for book banning and other forms of censorship in schools, libraries, and communities, despite all attempts made to create a facade of diversity and enlightenment beyond the occurrences of decades past. In 1991, high profile bannings included McKissack's Mirandy and Brother Wind, for use of Black dialect, and L'Engle's Many Waters for altering the story of Noah's Ark. In 1992, Sendak's in the Night Kitchen was accused of pornographic content for having a bare-bottomed child, a Minnesota school board was petitioned to ban the Bible for "lewd, indecent, and violent contents." (Dreamweaver) Other indecent books of 1992 are Steinbeck's of Mice and Men, for profanity and racial slurs, and Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 was hand-censored with permanent markers in California. In 1993, Where's Waldo was banned from many schools and libraries, as was the classic Little House on the Prairie. Additionally, Brave New World, the autobiography of Malcolm X, and even the Merrium-Webster's Dictionary were removed from classrooms and libraries in that year. In 1994, Huckleberry Finn was once again under fire for bad grammar and racial slurs, the cover of Poets & Writers was dubbed pornographic for a strapless top, Alive Walker's short stories were banned from the California statewide exams, and of Mice and Men was under fire for offensive language and content once more. Finally Heather has Two Mommies and the artwork of Escher were both proclaimed indecent. Huck Finn was pulled from yet another school in 1995, and classics like Twelfth Night by Shakespeare and Little House in the Big Woods by Wilder were both banned from schools in 1996. In June of this year, Jeff B. Copeland reported that "the 1995-96 academic year saw three hundred censorship challenges to books and movies in public schools. Forty one percent of these efforts were successful in having the works removed or restricted. " (Dreamweaver) During the 1997-98 school year, 55 books were banned by schools in Texas out of 141 formal challenges to have books removed from the schools. Alice Walker was again challenged and removed from school libraries, and R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series was also removed from many schools and libraries. In 1998, the Author's Guild reported that half of the 100 greatest books had been challenged or banned at some time, and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night continued to be challenged for promoting homosexuality, and in 1999 Shakespeare's Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear were all removed from school reading lists.
Book banning is an extreme form of censorship, but not nearly as much so as the tradition of book burning. Book burning has been done to a small portion of books in a ceremonial fashion to express disapproval of the book's content. In other cases, book burning has been an attempt to destroy all copies of a certain book in an area, or that exist all together. "The practice, often carried out publicly, is usually motivated by moral, political or religious objections to the material." (Obfusco) Abusive groups have used burning books as a way to appear powerful, or as an expression of the power that they do have, such as the Nazis in Germany that burned books in large public displays that did not support their views. In the century before the Nazi regime, Heinich Heine was quoted as saying, "Where they burn books, they will end in burning human beings." (Heine in Obfusco) This kind of artistic prophecy is perhaps repeated in one of the most commonly banned books of recent years, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.
Fahrenheit 451 was written in 1953 during a time in America that censorship and bans on books were at extreme levels, as well as being a timely subject because of world events. This book is famous for being one of the most influential books of our time to deal with taking action against unfair censorship. It is a dystopian novel set in a science-fiction futuristic setting where thought is discouraged and books are altogether banned. The title of the book refers to the temperature at which books will catch fire, and the lead character of Fahrenheit 451 is in fact a book burner, called a fireman, that is paid by the government. The historical events of the time that led to influencing this novel include McCarthyism and the censorship caused by fears of Communism in America, the acts carried out by Nazis that banned information and destroyed books. In Bradbury's world, life is too fast-paced and attention spans far too short to bother with reading, and the government considers books to be a threat to their power and stability. Propaganda claims that books are the source of unhappiness because they make people anxious and upset due to conflicting ideas presented in books, and that watching television and doing drugs are good ways to stay content. The main character of the story burns these books for a living, ironically called being a "fireman," but when he meets a girl that doesn't conform to society and falls in love with how different she is from his unhappy zombie-esque wife, he questions the nature of his work. This girl's death sparks his transformation, along with a moving incident of martyrdom when an old woman chose to perish with her books rather than watch them burned. The Mechanical Hound is used to track him down after he destroys his own home and forsakes the life of a "normal" person forever, in the company of an ex-English professor, to search for the meaning that is missing from life without books. Before the city is destroyed by an atomic bomb, the rebel pack of men that had entire libraries of books memorized for sharing is discovered, and the destruction of the society and those within it is actually filled with hope that the new society which emerges will be better.
Fahrenheit 451 has become a metaphor for the fight against censorship, and this book has, of course, been subject to censorship and banning throughout the years since it was released. Many groups have found the book to be explicit and inappropriate for children, including many swear words. Additionally, people have been disturbed by the similarity to our own society and government and have not appreciated the insinuation that the dystopia presented is either already present in America now or that we are headed in that direction. Yet like the German prophecies that book burning would lead to people burning, Bradbury's work has already been proven prophetic. Among his predictions are live television broadcasts of police pursuits and the emptiness of television content like reality television. (Wikipedia) Continuing book banning and burning, the Internet, and the "dumbing down" of America are other themes that have become reality. Bradbury himself is disgusted by the similarity of today's programming to that he described in his books; programming now has "the stupidest shows in history. They're making us dumber. They don't give us information, they give us facts, factoids. You don't learn who Napoleon was and how he was motivated. You learn what year he was born, and when he died. That's useless." (Bradbury in Moore) Bradbury sees fiction…