Banned Books Week
Last week was national Banned Books Week, and we had a display in our library with some of the well-known books that have been banned in the past. We participate in Banned Books Week to celebrate the freedom to read and to remember the power that an idea can have. Every year, books—particularly for children—are challenged or banned by various schools and libraries, and it’s good to take a week to think critically about this practice. It’s an interesting conversation—I read from one author in the LA Times that “banning books is like banning ideas, and…teenagers especially need access to all kinds of ideas,” because they are the next generation of voices and visionaries.
A real-life example of how this issue is more complex than a scratched-out word or a torn page can be found across the country in Tucson, Arizona, where seven books on the Mexican-American experience have been pulled from the shelves across the school district. The Mexican-American curriculum had been pitched recently following a decision last year that the program had gotten too politically-charged. One teacher told NPR that Mexican-American Studies (MAS) classes tell the immigrant story, and Mexican-American students get the opportunity to celebrate and discover their cultural identities as Americans through the music, food and literature of Chicano culture. The classes were disbanded across the district because while some teachers demonstrated a love for the culture, others focused on the divisive politics that come with the topic of immigration. The decision and its execution startled and hurt many who participated in the MAS programs. This past week, this issue has been back in the public mind during Banned Books Week, when we remember that books and ideas are powerful agents for change, and are sometimes seen as dangerous by institutions. With almost every banned book, there are two very earnest and compelling sides to the matter. Particularly when it comes to children’s literature, we walk a line between the responsibility to offer fruitful books as well as to provide challenging materials through which we can think critically with young readers.
As a Christian and as a person in favor of the sharing and discussion of challenging ideas, I think this is a very interesting conversation that will not end with one committee decision or protest.