Book Banning Raises Concerns

Jill Stone

Over the last few years, book banning has been a hot topic. PEN America, an organization focused on protecting free expression and speech in literature, said “During the 2021-2022 school year, more than 1,600 books were banned from school libraries. The bans affected 138 school districts in 32 states.” Books have been banned from high schools and junior high schools for a multitude of reasons including topics such as mental health, sexuality, gender, race, politics, profanity, witchcraft, and other story topics that are viewed as ‘controversial.’

Jackie Porter, the librarian at EHS, believes that book banning is a complex issue. “I’m dismayed at a lot of stuff that is going on these days in the book banning. I know that parents want to protect their kids. I’m a parent myself; I have two children,” said Porter. Although book banning has increased in the past few years, banning books has always existed as long as mass literature has existed.

Porter said, “We’ve always had book banning. We’ve always had objections to books…I think this particular [issue] is really about children and how soon children can read certain books…I think as a librarian you want to represent your students.” Porter claims that students come from many backgrounds and therefore it is a librarian’s responsibility to provide a variety of stories that represent the diversity of her students.

Austin Bailey, an Arkansas-based journalist, in a 2022 article with the Arkansas Times, said “Book banners have always drawn down on content that reflected society’s anxiety flashpoints at the time.” America is in discourse over sexuality, gender, and race. Among other topics, these prevail in what many people consider controversial enough that younger people should not be exposed to them. “A parent has a right to decide what their child will read.

I think the thing that I’m really concerned about is the number of books that are on banned lists that have to do with really politically charged issues. I’m concerned about that,” said Porter. “Young people are becoming adults and as parents, we’re kind of afraid of that. In the sense that we will lose influence on our students and children–and we want to protect them. But we also need to prepare them for the world they’re going to face. Whether we like it or not, it is a different world than what [previous] generations faced.”

According to an article by Pew Research Center, “Gen Z is more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations.” The diversity of the younger generation generates a wider range of viewpoints and personal stories. Many readers consider the last few decades to be the ‘golden age’ of literature, mostly because of the increased access and availability of a variety of different forms of books from more diverse authorship. 

 Porter expressed that many children, especially in rural areas, grow up sheltered with limited exposure to people who lead much different lives than themselves. “I grew up in the 60s and 70s in a pretty much ‘whites only’ world. There were other stories to be told and the place where I could find those stories was the library,” said Porter. Reading other people’s stories can help young people understand another person’s life.

It can expand their mind beyond the city limits of their small hometown. “I was unaware of some of the problems that were going on in the world but through literature, I was exposed to them and I think it made me a more broad-minded person. That’s what I think it can do for students–make them more empathetic toward each other. Make them more understanding of each other’s problems.”

Diversity and controversial topics are realistic aspects of the real world. Young people long to feel represented in the literature they read but they also need exposure to people that are different from themselves to allow them to be more empathetic. “I think book banning is not going to help that situation at all. I think we as parents have to understand the word that our kids are going into and the things they’re going to be exposed to.” Books allow students to learn about the world in a safe and controlled environment so they are better prepared for entering the real world.