Each fall, the American Library Association sponsors Banned Books Week, which celebrates challenged and controversial works of literature.
In a Sept. 23 op-ed published on a Washington Post blog, ASU associate professor James Blasingame criticized a Sierra Vista, Ariz., school district for banning Cuban-American author Cristina García’s 1992 book, “Dreaming in Cuban,” which officials said contained sexually explicit passages.
“Dreaming in Cuban” joins literary classics on the “banned” list, including Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” along with the Harry Potter series and Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which are each near the top of the list of most challenged or most banned books at school libraries across the country.
Many such works are banned for what are deemed “sexually explicit” materials (the most common objection), “offensive language” or things that are otherwise considered obscene.
In Arizona, the attempted or successful banning of books dealing with racial identity is nothing new: In 2010, Gov. Jan Brewer signed Arizona House Bill 2281 into law, and it prohibited “teaching classes that are designed for students of a particular ethnic group, promote resentment or advocate ethnic solidarity over treating pupils as individuals,” according to The Los Angeles Times.
The so-called “ethnic studies” ban, along with the banning of nearly any book considered to have literary value, is another in a long line of signs that the public doesn’t trust teachers or students to read with a critical eye. Students are smarter than many would like to think and deserve the chance to tackle “tough” topics in class.
Reading Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” in high school English class is a rite of passage for nearly every teenager. So are “Catch-22″ and “Hamlet” and “The Catcher in the Rye.”
Banning such books, or any books, can’t serve any greater purpose than allowing individuals to read them and construct their own judgments would. Language is undoubtedly powerful, and it can exert heavy influence on the formation of moral character and one’s very worldview.
It’s not worthwhile for those who object to certain materials’ presence in elementary or high school. As any hand-wringing Baby Boomer will tell you, movies, video games and TV shows are brimming with equally, if not more, objectionable content, and yet it is books that are so vehemently targeted.
Movies and more visual media tend to glorify or romanticize violence more than books. Watching HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is far more visceral and bloody than reading the book series from which it originated. Playing “Call of Duty” minimizes war and soldiers’ lives more than “Catch-22″ ever could.
“Objectionable” or provocative content does not equate to “worthless.” Censorship is fundamentally un-American, and the power of literature — whether one agrees with its content or not — cannot be denied.
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