October 20, 2023 at 4:00:00 PM
Caroline Hobbs ‘26
874 books are currently banned in America. This occurs most notably in schools, to protect students from what some define as “explicit” content. Book banners argue that they have children’s best interests in mind. Most seek to shield children from topics such as politics, “anti-family” content, LGBTIA+ content, violence, racism, offensive language, sexual content/nudity, and the use of drugs or illegal substances. In reality, restricting information limits students' ability to think freely, develop personal morals, and discover their identities. These topics, most importantly, give students a greater understanding of the world around them. Teaching controversial books in an academic setting allows students to appropriately wrestle with these concepts.
In tenth grade, we studied dystopian novels, and I read The Handmaid's Tale, currently one of the most banned books in America. The book covers a multitude of complex ideas and emotionally challenging topics such as sexual assault, suicide, domestic abuse, and a critical approach to religion. The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel, meaning it is premised upon a problem, injustice, or challenge facing a nation, group, or society as a whole. Such books highlight injustices in the modern world; therefore, banning them takes away the chances for students to consider and begin to understand issues facing our society. As a school, we understand and accept that critical thinking is important, and as a practical application of this, we learn about dystopian societies and their correlation to the challenges of the modern day..
Similarly, books have been banned for addressing racial injustice or containing offensive language and violence. While these problems are extremely hard to emotionally comprehend, they need to be talked about. Racism has time and time again emerged in the American justice system, and highlighting these topics is important. To Kill a Mockingbird and The Hate You Give (a previous Mercersburg summer read) are two books banned for their discussion of race. The plots both focus on the lives of Black Americans facing prejudice in the American justice system. They have also both been challenged for racism and offensive language (along with The Hate You Give being challenged for anti-police ideologies and To Kill a Mockingbird being challenged for sexual content). Both books not only highlight the errors of American government but also open a space for students to develop their moral framework. When the Academy teaches these books, it encourages most students to consider issues they have not faced in their lives and understand the injustices of the society they live in.
Although hard to digest, banning books about topics children will inevitably face isn’t stopping them from exploring that content - it's just making it harder for children to discover and connect with the difficult realities of life. Sheltering kids from sensitive topics makes them naive and will affect their ability to comprehend and interact with varied viewpoints in their futures, while also making them vulnerable to abuse or violence. If you keep a monkey from a banana, he’ll do everything he can to grab it. The fact is, kids will always find another way to access material that has been forbidden, and the way we approach controversial books on campus is a great example for schools around the nation.