Student Opinion: Banning Books on Race and Sexuality Is Counterproductive

By Michelle Lin


LOS ANGELES — From September 18, 2022, to September 24, 2022, certain libraries, schools and book stores celebrated Banned Books Week, which brings attention to censored books. While censorship marks books that are sexually explicit, contain offensive language, or are unsuitable for any age group, recent book bans target literature that contain marginalized characters and important issues. 


The rise of book bannings have increased in recent years, with 729 attempts to ban books in 2021, 156 in 2020 and 377 in 2019. The concern of these book bannings is that public school teachers are limited by political motivations rather than encouraging students to freely read books in their pursuit of knowledge.


While parents have frequently placed pressure on school boards nationwide to ban certain books, the influence of lawmakers and politicians in censoring books have become more aggressive. Observation of which books are challenged or where a person or group objects to a book and attempts to remove it from circulation, alludes to alarming patterns.


In a list of 2021 most challenged books, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe is at the top of the list, as well as numerous books by Black and LGBTQ authors such as The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, or This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson. 


According to Alice O’Brien, general counsel for the National Education Association, “The nature of the requests that are being made are much more likely to come from political sources now than they did in the past.” With recent bills such as Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and the overturning of Roe v. Wade, conservative ideologies may affect what the next generation is allowed to read.


Students should be able to read and develop opinions on complex topics such as reproductive rights. Reading material should also continue to resonate with marginalized groups. Banning books that discuss topics that conservative lawmakers disagree with, may interfere with the complete education of the next generation. 


Parent-involvement has political undertones, with US News citing No Left Turn in Education as a parent advocacy group, claiming that books such as The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi “spreads radical or racist ideologies to students.” The name of the organization is against leftist ideology, which creates a divide in what is acceptable to teach through political ideology rather than a more neutral marker.


While conservatives may argue that the ability to limit what their children read is their liberty, it is unfair to other children whose parents do not have the same concerns. It also does not give students the opportunity to think critically about their readings, but instead follow what the curriculum deems appropriate.


The boundary of the First Amendment in classrooms was pushed back in the 1988 case, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, where the Supreme Court limited types of speech in a school setting. 


Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN (Poets, Essayists, Novelists) America, said, “I think the protection of freedoms that we have to sell books, buy books, read books, write books, I think those rights are a lot more fragile than people will have imagined in recent years and taken for granted.”


If the political ideologies of parents and politicians cannot be separated from school curriculum, it is important at the very least that students learn about their rights, and how their First Amendment rights are being compromised by censorship.


Outside of school, independent booksellers are working to sell and promote books that conservatives challenged over recent years. As political ideologies may muddle public school reading or what is circulated at a public library, shopping from independent bookstores can allow students to access books, as well as support marginalized authors.


In cases where students are unable to afford shopping for books, or come from conservative families that would oppose buying such books, online libraries and the internet in general, can help students access topics deemed controversial for school. Heather Kelly, a writer at the Washington Post explains, “A book about sexuality or racism might not be allowed in your school, your local library or even your own home. But online, it can be found as an e-book in another library, less legally on torrenting sites or for purchase from any online bookstore.”


Some might wonder if students would actively seek out banned books. The Brooklyn Public Library’s independently funded program, Books Unbanned, offers banned books online for 13- to 21-year-olds all across the country, and has issued 5,100 cards and checked out 20,000 reading materials.


Despite outside resources, school and libraries remain the biggest sources of how students interact with written material. If a school teaches its students to think in a way that is only acceptable to a certain group of people, students will lose the ability to think and write critically. 

About The Author

Michelle Lin is a fourth year English major at UCLA. She enjoys writing and hopes to work in the legal field someday.

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