Banning books into silence

12 April 2016
12 Apr 2016
West Lafayette, IN
3 mins

This short note was originally a lengthy Facebook post inspired by a video by John Green, author of Looking for Alaska (video below). But because I thought the message here was important enough to me, and because I thought the idea deserved a broader audience, I chose to share both the original post and the video here. What follows is a word-for-word quote of the original post, unedited, as I first wrote my thoughts down. So it’s a little rough and a little wordy, but I hope the idea doesn’t get lost therein.

While it’s not as common in our community, banning of books in school libraries is, really, often a thinly veiled attempt at censorship against one of the most important generations in school. Arguing that a piece of literature or art be banned from a library simply because it challenges students to think outside the comfort zone, to address issues of social and personal importance most don’t have the chance to every day, and to experience a wider variety of perspectives is, really, both offensive to the generation that’s out to experience the world and the writers and artists who create those experiences.

Fifty Shades of Grey aside, the vast majority of literature, and especially young adult literature, exist not merely to titillate or to entertain but to deliver novel perspectives on the world to expand the horizons of the readers that come across the stories. Banning literature that begs its readers to think critically about life and important personal and social conflicts isn’t protection – it’s insult, it’s a manifestation of misconception, and it’s ultimately a way of undermining education because of the fear that the soon-to-be-leaders of the generation will learn to think critically as individuals, on their own, rather than live inside fragile glass domes of philosophical isolation.

I don’t argue that banning of books is universally good or universally bad. Certainly, there are some books that may be controversial enough or unnecessarily explicit enough that they somehow don’t “deserve” a place in a school library. But as a creator, it annoys me when people who frequently don’t even bother to look for the value of art or literature deem it inappropriate simply because it addresses topics people don’t want to think deeply about.

And Looking for Alaska, as I and millions of other young adults read it, is not pornography, is not unnecessarily explicit, and, most importantly, is a piece of literature that delivers more value than many of the books occupying shelf space in school libraries, not despite the fact that it contains “inappropriate” text, but precisely because of those parts of the story that challenge us to think more about difficult ideas like death, like relationships, like sex, and like moral paradoxes.

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