Why students should read banned books in 2023 | Teen Ink

Why students should read banned books in 2023

March 11, 2023
By dimples2024 BRONZE, Middle Village, New York
dimples2024 BRONZE, Middle Village, New York
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Across the nation, schools are banning books at an astonishing rate. During the 2021-2022 school year, there were over 1,000 book bans enforced. Book banning isn’t a new topic, with various literary classics having been banned throughout history. In 1933, in Nazi Germany, the government burned books primarily written by Jewish authors. According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia: “Book burning refers to the ritual destruction by fire of books or other written materials. Usually carried out in a public context, the burning of books represents an element of censorship and usually proceeds from a cultural, religious, or political opposition to the materials in question. The burning of books under the Nazi regime on May 10, 1933, is perhaps the most famous book burning in history.” Fortunately, we haven’t entirely gone to this dark time again; however, this increasing rate is concerning as we are in the Information Age. The Information Age should allow students to gain access to anything they require to succeed. Students should read banned books because these books often have emphatic messages relevant to today’s changing world. 

One of the most challenged and banned books is The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye tells the story of Holden Caulfield as he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania, and spends three days in New York City around Christmas time. According to Simmon’s Voice’s website on banned books: “ The American Library Association states that The Catcher in the Rye has been banned by schools and public libraries for having ‘excess vulgar language, sexual scenes, things concerning moral issues, excessive violence and anything dealing with the occult’ and ‘communism,’ among other things.” Despite this,  The Catcher in the Rye became a model for all novels, post-World War II, because it contains messages that help us, as a society, through difficult times. Holden Caulfield is scared to grow up because he lives in a dangerous world; he deals with depression and loneliness. As we come out of a worldwide pandemic, many teenagers can relate to Holden because they feel alone and anxious as they return to a pre-pandemic society. 

The majority of locations where books are banned are places that don’t believe all voices are equal. Growing up in a major city, I believe that all voices are equal, and should be heard. I grew up in New York City, where I had access to everything. While I believe that the First Amendment does allow us freedom of speech, I also agree that some of the books they ban are harmful. However, I need to ask, who has the right to decide between one man’s hate speech and another man’s freedom? An example of this is To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Written during the Civil Rights movement, Harper Lee’s novel is now known as one of the greatest novels of all time, however, it is also one of the most frequently banned books in US history. According to the Banned Books Project at Carnegie Mellon University, “To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most frequently challenged books in the US due to its themes of r*pe and the use of profanity and racial slurs. While numerous attempts have been made to ban the novel since its publication, two successful cases of banning have occurred within the past three years. In 2017, the novel was removed from 8th-grade classrooms in Biloxi, Mississippi due to a complaint from a parent citing the use of the N-word and the fear that the class’ reaction to the word may negatively affect her daughter. After protests from free speech advocates, the novel was re-added to the list of optional readings. However, parental permission was required to read it. The second case occurred in 2018 at schools in Duluth, Minnesota, where copies of both To Kill a Mockingbird and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were removed from the classroom. Unlike the previous case, the book was banned due to the accumulation of complaints over the years. Free speech groups are calling for the restoration of both novels but no changes have yet occurred.” People in the South, who rejected the Civil Rights Movement, disliked To Kill a Mockingbird because they believed it could promote equality between the races. While the citing of the N-word in the 2017 complaint is understandable, parents should be teaching their children that the N-word has an ugly meaning; it’s a teachable moment, from which we can grow. I have read books that have made me change my own perspective and challenge society. A memorable book I read not too long ago was The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. I have a half-brother who is Afro-Latino. I always get nervous whenever I hear stories such as those of George Floyd, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice because I know it could have been my brother. The Hate U Give evokes a powerful message about advocating for what’s right. The Black Lives Matter movement is significant in this novel as it helps the protagonist find her voice. This novel has been challenged in school curriculums and libraries for its powerful themes. Words can resonate, and lead to social change. 

As a lover of reading and a prospective writer, if I want to learn how to develop themes, create a character arc, or read something for pleasure, I should be able to access any book to help me. Some banned books are the best books ever written. Banning books takes away resources writers need to grow, and for students to grow into better people who are aware of the world around them. The next generation should fight for their freedom of speech as it is their First Amendment right, and societal progress is often the result of uncomfortable discourse.

The author's comments:

This piece is very important and personal to me. As part of the next generation, banned books is a topic that is incredibly important to me and should be explained across the nation.

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