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The Problem is ********* The United States has promised its citizens the basic rights to speech and free press since the founding of our nation. But in 1821, our country took its first steps towards censorship when the 1748 novel Fanny Hill was banned for containing offensive and vulgar language as well as detailing the less than glamorous life of a prostitute. The tradition of removing books from schools for their questionable content has carried on into the twenty first century with the banning of several extremely popular books such as Harry Potter, for its use of witchcraft as a key plot point, The Hunger Games, for its graphic descriptions of children slaying one another on live television, and even the widespread elementary boy’s books Captain Underpants, for its use of bathroom humor frequently throughout the series. Not only these books, but also beloved classics such as The Scarlett Letter, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Great Gatsby have all been removed from the curriculum of many schools in order to shelter students from the taboo topics they discuss, such as racial prejudice, adultery, and alcoholism. Many concerned Americans have begun to wonder whether or not the government should have the power to control what students read and believe that censorship goes against the very foundations of our nation. While the United States Constitution does clearly state that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech or of the press”, does that apply to even the most explicit sexual and racial content? The issue had been consistently justified by courts cases involving racism and violence that many concerned parents believe are caused by these books. Compromise is the only way to solve the issue of censorship in schools. That way, students can still practice their rights as well read into controversial topics and taboos in order to form their own opinions while still being guarded from encountering explicit or violent material before they are mature enough. This can be achieved by setting a list of criteria for books in school libraries based on three categories: determining what books should be introduced to which age groups, whether or not a book has sexually explicit material that goes into too much detail, and lastly, whether or not a book has relevant moral lesson. The first set of criteria that should be examined in order to determine a books appropriateness is to control what books are read depending on age. While yes, I agree that it is important for students to exercise their literary freedom I also believe that premature exposure to certain subject can be potentially harmful if it is not regulated. Younger students should be limited to more introductory level books that while still achieving the purpose in stimulating critical thought development, do not do so in a way that is age appropriate. For example, elementary and middle school students can begin reading books like Bridge to Terabithia, and The Giver which both explore some challenging subjects like mortality, do so in a way that is still suitable for that age group. Meanwhile, the compromise would allow older students to continue studying the more thought provoking material. It is important for us as adults to have more faith when it comes to adolescents. For instance: Peter Scales in his essay in Censorship: Opposing Viewpoints, emphasizes that too much censorship is an indicator of “society’s lack of confidence in itself” (131). By saying this, Scales reinforces the fact that one of the things that has caused an overabundance of censorship in American schools is the fact that parents and school officials by sheltering students, have shown that they have little to no faith in the students, and that they do not trust them to take what they read and learn from it without reacting negatively. Scales elaborates further by providing a good compromise by stating that if parents do not think their children should read something that they should be able to explain to them why they believe this then perhaps allow them to read it when they reach an acceptable age. It is important for adolescents to have freedom of the mind, but it is healthier for the mind that they only encounter that which they are prepared to read and understand (132). The Second indicator to gauge whether or not a book should be banned or not is the degree of detail that the book goes into in regards to sexually explicit or graphic descriptions or language. I think that most adults can agree that books such as Fifty Shades have no place in school libraries due its blatantly pornographic nature. It is cases like this when those who lobby for complete liberation from censorship sometimes falter in their argument. Authors like Will Manley, in his essay supporting censorship in Censorship: Opposing Viewpoints, seem to respond to this point by simply stating that while the Constitution technically allows the publication of such books, it does not however mean that schools libraries should contain offensive topics like sodomy or murder (124). By first conceding with his opposition, Manley is able to continue in a non-threatening way as he moves onto the importance of setting “clear and systematic standards of selection” in libraries when it comes to determining whether a books content is too explicit (124). For example, when comparing the two books Fifty Shades and Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, which are equally banned for depicting sexuality, one can see the differences between what is and is not appropriate. It is almost ridiculous that these two completely different books are held to the same standard when it comes to censorship. For example: Fifty Shades offers a graphic and vulgar depiction of sadomasochism that, as stated by Hillel Italie in his article “Banned Books 2013: 'Captain Underpants', 'Fifty Shades' Make List of Most Challenged.” In the Huffington Post, contradicts all of the basic morals held and negates “community standards” in a way that is inexcusable, and that is why the books banning is justified. Meanwhile Anne Frank is banned just as frequently for mentioning female reproductive cycles despite the fact that it is nonetheless a beautifully written historical account of the struggles of prejudice. The book should not be banned because it only goes into minor sexual details, unlike Fifty Shades. By banning only blatantly explicit books, students can be protected from vulgar material while still being able to effectively explore some violent and sexual content, and furthermore, broaden their understanding of humanity itself. The last on the list of criteria determining whether a book should be allowed in a school library or not is if the book has an important moral lesson to offer. One of the most common reasons that a book can be banned is if it includes controversial and sensitive topics such as slavery, adultery and especially racial slurs. But many times the opposing argument is that the books in question were often written during time periods where maybe slavery was currents issue or a time when racial slurs were accepted as a part of everyday conversation. One book where this issue is relevant is the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which uses frequent slurs that many regard as racist. While I agree that some of the wording is distasteful and is at times offensive in nature, many others, including myself, argue that the novel is only a product of its time and that its language should be overlooked because of the moral lessons that lie deeper within the meaning book. In his essay in Censorship Opposing Views, Darryl Brown defends the opinion that the harmful repercussions of allowing racially offensive language into schools outweighs the benefits of any lessons because can lead to “racial insensitivity” and potentially violence in schools (142-144). While Brown raises a valid concern he neglects to use examples of books using this seemingly harmful language in order to communicate a deeper meaning. The novel the Scarlett Letter is condemned because of its depiction of adultery but it also teaches its readers about the consequences of ones actions as well as it teaches that no one is beyond redemption. It is important that students read books like this, that challenge their way of thinking and that instill classic traditions and values as well as gives them an idea and understanding of the struggles faced in the past. And it is not just the classics that have lessons to teach adolescents. Journalist Baldassarro in his article “Banned Book Awareness: Looking for Alaska” responds to those who would say that modern books have no place being taught because they are not “classics.” By pointing out what I stated earlier, he reinforces the fact that if a book can be used to teach a lesson then it should be used. Compromise is the only way to solve the issue of censorship in schools. This can be achieved by setting a list of criteria for books in school libraries based on three categories: determining which books should be introduced to which age groups, whether or not a book has content that goes into too much detail, and lastly, whether or not a book has relevant moral lesson. By following these suggestions for testing the appropriateness of a book, people on the opposing sides of censorship can both be satisfied. Once the argument is resolved, students will be free to read and form their own beliefs but still be within what is age appropriate and moralistic.

Works Cited

Baldassarro, R. Wolf. “Banned Books Awareness: Looking for Alaska.” Banned Books World. edu. Banned Books Awareness, 14 May. 2012. Web. 9 Oct. 2013.

Brown, Darryl, John H. Buchanan, Nat Hentoff, William F. Jasper, Will Manley, Peter Scales, and Phyllis Schlafly. “Chapter 4: Is School and Library Censorship Justified?” Censorship Opposing Views. Ed. David Bender, Bruno Leone, and Lisa Orr. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc, 1990. Print.

Italie, Hillel. “Banned Books 2013: 'Captain Underpants', 'Fifty Shades' Make List Of Most Challenged.” Huffington Post.com. The Huffington Post, 15 April. 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

“The Bill of Rights.” National Archives and Records Administration. United States. 29 Jan. 1998. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

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