Banning Books in Public Schools Essay

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Banning Books in Public Schools

The 1st Amendment to the constitution does guarantee freedom of speech and freedom of the press. However, when children are involved, freedoms often become blurry. In some cases, they are not freedoms at all, when parents or society believes they are protecting children. One example would be the case of banning books in public schools. However, banning books in public schools is unacceptable because it deprives everyone (not just children) of their rights, imposes and fosters normative values, and generally harms the author.

Book banning in public schools is unethical because it deprives every one of their right have the material. While the target audience may be children, there are many adults who read books that are aimed at youth. For example, Harry Potter has been read by old and young alike, and The Hunger Games has been a best seller for many months. Many of these adults find value in what is in the book (e.g., Harry Potter has been said to have inspired a whole generation to read).

As a result of such global bans, some adults would no longer have convenient access to certain books without being forced to purchase them. As an aside, this force to purchase further disenfranchises the already poor who rely on public services, such as the school library, because they are being deprived of their right to the material almost altogether. Also, if a book has already been purchased by a library and then banned (and taken off the shelf), adults are also being deprived of a right to material for which they have already paid.

School book banning also seems to start a slippery slope because of definitions of "appropriate" and "age." Questions such as "at what age is it appropriate for someone to read about sex?" must be answered. For each instance of a ban, then, an appropriate age limit should be set if, in fact, the reason for the ban is that the books are "targeting children." Determinations of what "children" is and what ages are appropriate must be made in each instance. An example of such an issue would be that of a person who is legally of age, but "still in school." If a person has been held back five times, conceivable by banning books in school library, the rights of a 20-year-old would be reduced to that of a 15-year-old (or of a 15-year-old to a 10-year-old). At what point should that person have access to the material? When is he/she mature enough?

The age standard, in a way, also deprives parents of a right to determine what is and is not appropriate for their own children (notwithstanding the "purchase" issue mentioned earlier). While one parent may feel his child is ready for "questionable" material at 12, another may feel her child is not ready until 17. However, both parents are forced to parent equally as the material is made unavailable publically. A parent, then, cannot teach their children diversity issues, for example, by using public or school libraries, which brings up the next point.

Banning books imposes a normative standard of what is "acceptable" without actually proving it. In some cases, it flat out violates other constitutional rights in doing so. For example, according to the American Library Association, 304 books were challenged in the 21st century because of their "religious viewpoints." ("Frequently Challenged Books," n.d.). Removing these because of this reason is in direct violation to the freedom of religion clause in the first amendment while, at the same time, reinforces in society's mind that anti-(or non-normative) religious views are unacceptable. Discussion of sexual orientation is similar. By banning books that discuss sexual orientation (other than to discuss (monogamous) male and female relationships), a normative standard of heterosexuality is set and reinforced. This makes for a stronger sense of heteronormativity, "hegemonic, heterosexual standards of identity" ("Heteronormativity," n.d.), in American society as it not only deprives people (both adults and children) of the content that could, in some ways, challenge this position, removing, for example, some homophobia, but also it reinforces the social moral stance that homosexuality is wrong. The effect of such a ban, then, is two-fold; it removes content that might make one question their beliefs and opinions and reinforces that the normative opinion is right.

This means that it helps to homogenize and reinforce homogenization of social thinking. Further, book bans are often initiated by just a few people. In this way, it gives these few people control over (in a small way) how and what we think. It gives those who do not agree with the material in the book power of the rest of us to force us to change or maintain (depending) our thinking, so that it is in alignment with theirs. Whether the challenge is brought up by students groups or by parents, the message is the same: "everyone else should think, believe, and behave like me." These sorts of ideas, of course, have been used to justify many morally unacceptable ideologies, such as racism, colonialism, religious intolerance, and sexism.

Finally, it violates the rights of the author. Because an author has committed no crime, his/her rights should not be violated. However, these rights are restricted when a book is banned because people find the content "questionable." It has, for a long time, been a task of art and literature to be questionable, to make people think, and to change individuals' perspectives. By banning an author's book, she is being deprived of financial gain for her hard work as well as the ability to be, for example, transformative. If an author cannot reach her target audience, her message cannot be heard (no matter how good that potential message could be).

Contrarily, one might argue that message that she intends may be bad, which is possibly the case. However, it seems that this sort of contention reverts back to the first two issues mentioned. If the author's message is bad, then by banning the book, parents are denied, for example, the right to teach their children how and why it is "bad," and the right to question whether or not it is bad (or is just countercultural at the time).

The author, however, has been denied the right to be heard and to do the task set out by his profession. Freedom of the press and freedom of speech has been reduced for him to a restrained freedom, blocked out of venues that are afforded to other authors who, for example, may not have tried to push social boundaries, challenge traditional thought, or actually educate children (such as in the case of And Tango Makes Three). He is not allowed the same freedom as those who write about socially acceptable things or things that are just shy of superfluous.

Further, in many ways, it promotes the author to status of social villain. Notions of child corruption and low moral character are attached to these people. Their names, essentially, have been sullied as a result of their books being banned, and there is a lot of moral judgment that comes along with that.

Aristotle would agree with these basic tenets of why book banning is wrong. In terms of Nicomachean ethics, people, parents, children, and authors alike, are being deprived of some of their virtues ("Aristotle's Ethics," March 29, 2010). For example, parents, children, and authors cannot demonstrate bravery. For example, parents and children, in the face of a "questionable" book, can choose to show bravery in two ways: they could either be brave against what society thinks or they could be brave by sticking to their beliefs and not reading it. Banning the book already removes these as options. Further, magnanimousness, as a virtue, is unavailable, for example, to the author because her she…[continue]

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