Book Censorship: An Advocacy Essay
Today, the debate over book censorship in the United States is not only heated and emotionally charged, it has resulted in actual violence in the nations communities. The reasons that some groups want books in the schools and libraries censored are multiple, but they all boil down to fundamental disagreements concerning what types of materials young people should be allowed to read and discuss. Certainly, there is little disagreement concerning providing young learners with outright pornographic materials or literature that promotes violence, baby-killing, drunkenness, incest, or fratricide, but censorship advocates are on a very slippery slope when it comes to defining materials that are sufficiently offensive to warrant censorship. Indeed, the Holy Bible includes all of the foregoing issues as well as others that many people would find objectionable if they were in any other source. In this regard, one authority points out that, Censorship can be either explicit, such as rules or prohibitions embedded in law, or informal, such as norms and unstated cultural oughts that are enforced through social pressure and public expectations of the norm (Genovese 37). The purpose of this paper is to provide a review of the relevant literature concerning the opposing sides of the debate over book censorship to demonstrate that book censorship is appropriate for primary schools and libraries to protect young learners from objectionable materials. It is important to note that in this context, book censorship applied to primary educational settings is far different from an outright, society-wide ban on books for everyone as discussed below.
II. Reason #1: Censorship of objectionable books is appropriate because young school children in the United States do not enjoy the same First Amendment rights as adults
It is the job of educators to ensure that the materials that are offered to young learners are age-appropriate and conform to prevailing community standards. As noted in the introduction, while this practice is termed book censorship, it is applicable only to schools and libraries rather than representing a society-wide ban of these materials. For example, according to the definition provided by Blacks Law Dictionary, censorship is a review of publications, movies, plays, and the like for the purpose of prohibiting the publication, distribution or production of material deemed objectionable as obscene, indecent or immoral [and] such actions are frequently challenged as constituting a denial of freedom of press and speech (224).
It is also important to note that the constitutional protections that are otherwise afforded to American citizens by the Fourteenth Amendment notwithstanding, the Bill of Rights and other civil rights protections essentially end at the schoolhouse door and educators have both the responsibility and authority to determine what reading materials will be provided to their students. For instance, Sawchuk emphasizes that, Although civics has lately taken a back seat to reading, math, and testing regimes, most parents probably share that goal today. But it would likely come as a surprise to many of them to learn that enrolling their children in schools also means putting them in a place thats legally permitted to curtail some of their childrens constitutional rights (3).
The track record of case law concerning students and free speech is consistent in showing that young people do not have the same First Amendment rights to free speech as adults who are essentially free to advocate anything that falls short of calling for a violent overthrow of the U.S. government, but even here there has been some recent instances where this has also been allowed. As applied to students, however, the protections provided by the First Amendment are limited in ways that conform to the practice of book censorship. For example, according to Sawchuk, Supreme Court rulings have constrained students speech. Administrators have some leeway to censor student-newspaper articles, for example. And students can be restricted on speech thats considered vulgar or lewd, promotes drug use, causes a material and substantial disruption to school, or infringes on another students rights (7). Furthermore, the proliferation of numerous popular social media platforms has further clouded the issue of censorship, but current trends clearly indicate that school authorities can and do routinely engage in censorship activities (Sawchuk 8). Book censorship can also be justified for other reasons as well, including the community standards view which is discussed below.
III. Reason #2: Book censorship in schools and libraries is appropriate when a plurality of teachers, librarians, parents and other stakeholders agree that it is necessary to protect young learners
Identifying which books and other educational materials should be censored is a highly subjective enterprise that must draw on the values and standards that are community-specific. The historical record clearly shows that some conservative states are highly intolerant of schools teaching anything that even smacks of critical race theory, for example, even if the vast majority of their citizens do not even know what it is, but the term does contain all of the trigger words and these reactions are uninformed yet instinctive as reflected in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Scared white American parents…in the decision-making process. In addition, the schoolchildren themselves should also be afforded this opportunity in order to gauge the reasonability of a proposed censorship action.
VII. Policy Solution #2:
Provide parents wit a list of any books that have been selected for censorship as well as information concerning the rationale in support of this decision as well as information about where these books can be located and/or purchased in the event they want their children to have access to them. In fact, as the recent response to the censorship of Art Speigelmans Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, Maus, clearly demonstrated, many parents believe their children should have access to controversial points of view, especially about important historical events that have implications for modern society. Some bookstores even offered free copies of this book to students who lived in school districts where it had been banned (McGreevy 3). In other words, by drawing attention to this book, readership increased dramatically thereby proving that this type of censorship really only applies when students enter their schools.
VIII. Policy Solution #2:
Similar to Common Core standards, school district administrators, librarians and educators could develop a nationwide list of books that are considered worthy of additional scrutiny to determine if they should be censored in the schools and libraries. Although compliance with this list would be voluntary, it would provide a basic framework in which to reevaluate existing censored books and determine whether new ones should be included in a given districts own list based on prevailing community standards.
The very notion of censoring anything in the United States is offensive to most Americans because the First Amendment is the most prized of their constitutional rights by far. Moreover, book censorship in particular calls to mind book burnings which are an outrage to American values. Indeed, in May 1933, Americans made this view abundantly clear when they took to the streets to exercise another First Amendment right to protest the book burnings that were taking place in Nazi Germany. In this regard, historians at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum report that, In the largest demonstration in New York City history up to that date, 100,000 people marched for more than six hours to protest events in Germany and the burning of books. (Immediate American responses to the Nazi book burnings 2). This type of gut reaction to book censorship must be addressed directly head-on in order for the nations schools and libraries to continue to fulfill their educational responsibilities in…
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