Living an Unbothered Life: Literary Censorship in Schools

Banned Books

We live in a world that allows just about anyone, including kids, to access anything they desire with the swipe of a touchscreen. And yet, as easily as they can access content such as pornography, people are still trying to challenge and ban books from schools and other public institutions.   

In Mattoon, IL, several parents, due to what they described as “pornographic content,” recently challenged the novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. What parents didn’t realize was this passage wasn’t meant to sexually excite anyone, but was merely a nine-year-old explaining various sexual actions he’d learned from other kids at school. The book was pulled from classrooms part way through the students reading it, and they weren’t allowed to carry on with the curriculum. Many were upset by the school board’s decision, and some even took action to override the censorship. 

Students rallied together to try to get the book reinstated by signing a petition and talking to the principal, but were told there was nothing that could be done. Some even went as far as making a list of every book they had read in school that is on the banned book list and never had to have permission to read. They were, to put it bluntly, stripped of an education. 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseThe students were still allowed to watch the movie in class and have the option to check it out from the library, but inserting it back into the curriculum was prohibited. So why ban it in the first place? Simple. To appease a few people who don’t think their children have heard any sort of vulgarity and are too innocent to be exposed to it now. 

Banned Books Week is the national community's celebration of the right to read whatever it may choose. There were ten popular titles that were deemed the most challenged titles of 2014. Some of these included The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chboksy and Blue Eyes by Toni Morrison. Reasons for the banning of these titles stem from offensive language to violence, among other reasons. But the main problem seems to be that parents just don’t think their children are mature enough to handle this content.

This can branch out and be a problem for society because eventually, these people who are blocked from learning about these types of topics in a controlled environment, will have to learn about them elsewhere. Once that becomes the case, they may not discover all the knowledge they need to be a functioning member of society. This not only proves to be a problem for students in the United States, but the banning of books is problematic for schools around the world. Works such as Orwell's 1984 and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland have been removed from other countries because those in charge didn’t agree with the contents. But without reading books that challenge them, the youth of today will not be able to grow into successful leaders of tomorrow.

Censorship is a serious topic, especially when associating it with youth. Their schooling before they reach higher education is important. It tends to mold them into the type of young adults they will become, which, in turn, shapes the future. The most challenged books have grown to become some of the most important in history. If the people in this age group aren’t faced with a topic that makes them slightly uncomfortable, then it will be very difficult for them to be successful.

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, was removed from Wisconsin’s Waukesha West High School due to offensive language and violence in 2014. I read this book this past summer, and, I’ll admit, some parts were a little unsettling. But what happens in this book are events that actually occur in the Middle East, and ones that people should be aware of. It’s not a novel filled with happiness, but neither are the majority of occurrences in life. Students need to learn how to handle discomfort. Why should they have to wait for a real life event to do this?

In short, we need more students like those in Mattoon who are willing to stand up for what they think is right - for what they know is right. There are students across the nation facing these same problems and not knowing how to handle them. It’s not to be brushed off and taken lightly. Banning books restricts people’s freedom to read. Who says one person should have the ability to dictate what others read? 

Reading is an escape, a way to utilize imagination, and yet, people want to shut that down. Growing up I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, most of which probably wasn’t deemed “appropriate” for my age. But I matured because of it, and learned how to handle content that was older than what I was used to. Reading stimulates the mind, provides knowledge and enhances vocabulary. Regardless of what type of material it is, the right to read whatever someone wants shouldn’t be taken away. 

It’s crucial that people realize censorship is still a problem in the United States, and will continue to be, unless they do something about it. 

In Fahrenheit 451, a book that is often challenged in schools, Ray Bradbury discusses how “we really need to be bothered once in a while.” When it’s bothersome, it shows a genuine quality, something everyone needs to face every once in a while. 

Written word has the power to change lives, to change countries, to change history. It’s our job to keep those words alive and circulating throughout schools and libraries. For without these controversial works, we never grow and we never learn.

A native of Mattoon, IL, Emma Diltz is a sophomore international journalism major at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Her love of travel inspired her career choice, as well as her passion for reading, writing, and providing a voice for those who don’t have one.