For Banned Books Week this week, I’ve been reading up on why books get challenged and banned. I made myself a fun little project, where I went through many of the challenged books I have on my shelf and tagged them with Post-its as to why.
First off, when we talk about challenged and banned books, we’re usually talking about from schools. Mostly middle schools and high schools. There are some extremists who try to get books banned from public libraries or taken off the shelf at bookstores, but those challenges are less common.
Why do people want to ban books? It seems like the people who want to ban books recognize the power of words, and they’re afraid of that power. Words lead to thought, which lead to ideas, which lead to challenging, questioning, and often disagreeing with the status quo.
Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damn full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like psychology or sociology to tie things up with.
-From Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
So why don’t some people want others (but especially kids) to think? I believe it’s for a few reasons.
First, book banners believe that they know the “right” way to live, and don’t want to offer alternatives. Some people believe that the only thing that stops others from making bad choices is prevention from there being a choice. They cloak kids in misinformation and deception, saying it’s for their own good. We know it doesn’t work. When abstinence is the only option, kids get pregnant. When we lie and say all drugs (even marijuana) will kill you, then we lose our credibility when we say that spice and bath salts are actually really dangerous.
Second, thinking kids are questioning kids. Teens are already rebellious. They talk back, they annoy, and they think they know it all. Why add fuel to that fire? In my mind, that’s the time to add fuel to that particular fire, before it’s all burned out and ashes going cold. Teenagers are looking for their place in the world. Help them learn to think before they become mindless adults. They’re already worried about the upcoming zombie apocalypse, and in some ways they ‘re probably aware that it’s already here.
Third, denial. If we deny that bad language, sexual behaviors, violence, and racism exist, then it won’t. Oh, if only it were that easy! Taxes would have ceased to exist years ago. Along with traffic and those people who take 20 minutes to special order coffee at Starbucks.
Denial doesn’t work.
Thinking, arguing, discoursing work. Where do you stand on book banning? What’s your favorite banned book?