Schools exist to prepare students for their lives ahead. English classes in particular not only work to improve students’ reading and writing skills, but also to show them different authors’ perspectives of the world. However, students’ learning — and authors’ freedom — could be affected by new calls from parents to ban offensive books from schools. Does banning books suppress authors’ freedom of press, or can it protect children from obscene content?
Book banning is a common occurrence in libraries and schools alike. Some books can offer controversial or outright offensive ideas, and parents and library-goers have looked for years to make them unavailable to students and children. Libraries have removed books from their shelves and schools have removed books from their curriculums in order to satisfy these complaints, only for others to complain about the bans themselves. Those rallying against the bans say that children and students need to be exposed to new ideas to grow as readers and as people, and that silencing certain authors limits their freedom of expression. Others calling for the bans claim that the ideas and language in some books can negatively affect younger readers, by showing them obscene content they are not old enough to handle.
In Miller v. California, the Supreme Court described obscene content as anything overly sexual or offensive without any artistic or educational value, and set the precedent that the First Amendment did not protect obscenity. Ban advocates claim that books featuring racial slurs or controversial themes can be offensive to students and should be banned. However, many books featuring controversy or slurs still have educational value. Take To Kill a Mockingbird, a common target for book banning. It prominently features issues about racism and prejudice, and some characters use harsh racial slurs. However, the author uses these themes to show readers the evils of racism, not to promote it: even though the book has controversial themes, it is still educational for students, and is therefore not obscene. Banning any book featuring strong language or uncomfortable topics not only prevents students from learning valuable lessons about the world, it can restrict authors from reaching a wide audience and freely expressing their views. That is not to say that every book should be allowed: there are mature and graphic books not suitable for students, and a school might not choose To Kill a Mockingbird as required reading because it would be unfit for its English curriculum or too difficult for younger readers to work on.
Banning books from libraries and schools based on controversy alone can lead to suppression of authors’ speech and can take away learning opportunities from students. Students should be able to hear a diverse set of views, teachers and librarians should be able to educate students about the world, and authors should be able to share their views with few restrictions.