Banning books is one of the most common forms of censorship that exists in the world today. Banned Books Week began in 1982 to highlight the issues that surround this issue. Since the start of this event, there have been over 11,000 different titles challenged. The vast majority of the reading materials that receive challenges come from parents who disagree with a title’s inclusion on a curriculum list.
Public libraries, universities, K-12 schools, and businesses all over the country see attempts to ban books frequently. The National Coalition Against Censorship reports that there is at least one attempt per week to create censorship over a specific title. The subject matter that gets targeted with the banning process ranges from classics to contemporary best-sellers. You’ll even find biographical non-fiction and fairy tales included on these lists.
Most challenges never result in a ban because students, families, teachers, and librarians take a stand against the censorship. When books do receive a ban, it is usually because there are racial themes involved, an alternative lifestyle portrayed, or violence and sex that makes people uncomfortable.
List of the Pros of Banning Books
1. Parents should have the right to what materials their children can read.
Parents are the final line of defense when it comes to protecting their children from inappropriate material for their age group. A book with an adult topic may be entirely enjoyable when people of the correct age have a chance to read and discuss the narrative. That content may not be well-suited to a child’s audience. Waiting until a child is mature enough to understand what vulgar, obscene language, and explicit sexual content is often necessary to promote healthy development.
If this material is available in public or school libraries, then parents might not even know that their kids were exposed to this material. Other students might still talk about the book, but those discussions are very different than applying the narrative in a real-world way.
2. There might be inappropriate content for certain families.
40% of the most challenged books in 2017 contained explicit violence. That is the same percentage that also contained material from the LGBTQIA+ community. 30% of the books were sexually explicit with their descriptions. When students receive exposure to graphic materials, then there can be adverse psychological effects that occur afterward. This issue may lead to more casual sexual partners, having sexual contact at an earlier age, and sensitivity issues.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children who receive exposure to violence in books at an early age can encourage them to act with more aggression. Proponents of banning books say that their goal isn’t to shelter a child from specific content. It is a matter of guiding them toward what is healthy for them to encounter.
3. Banning books from one forum doesn’t eliminate the ability to access content.
Banning books in the past was an effective way to keep unwanted materials out of someone’s hands because there were very few communications tools available to society. The world is a very different place in 2019. If parents want their public library to ban a book, then it could be made available online for reading. There are still places to purchase the book as well. No one is preventing them from being written or sold. What some people call “book banning” is more of a responsible choice about what to make available to other people.
4. It gives parents an opportunity to discuss challenging topics with children.
Parents want the chance to speak with their kids about subject matters that make many people uncomfortable instead of letting an author shape the narrative with a personal opinion. Reading Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is an excellent example of this potential advantage of banning books. Dealing with topics like murder and euthanasia may go beyond the understanding of some young children. Other books deal with suicide, peer pressure, and death on a large scale.
Approving books for a school curriculum without parental guidance may shape the perspective of a child without having a chance to form their own opinion. Stopping access at the community level can help kids to get both sides of the conversation.
5. Banned books could stop people from being inspired to take adverse actions.
The Catcher in the Rye, a novel by J.D. Salinger, has had a lasting influence on society. It continues to be a best-selling book, but it is also one of the most frequently banned titles that people challenge. It has also been the inspiration for several shootings over the year. When John Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan, this book was in his collection at the hotel.
Robert John Bardo was carrying the book when he murdered Rebecca Schaeffer. Mark David Chapman, the man who shot John Lennon, identified with the narrator to the extent that he wanted to change his name to Holden Caulfield. Chapman even read a portion of the book during his sentencing hearing.
6. Censorship can reduce the impact of hate speech.
Proponents of banning books say that the act of censorship isn’t a process that is supposed to ban all speech. Hate speech isn’t created equal. The words that some people use to create feelings of personal superiority are damaging. Even when a narrative tries to cloak this issue in righteousness, the potential adverse impact of student exposure could create numerous problems for schools, families, and students. Banning the book before it can inspire hate allows us to reduce the impact of this language in our society.
You can also reduce the amount of conflict that occurs between two people or parties. Limiting information access doesn’t stop someone from producing work. It allows people who don’t want to receive exposure to a specific concept to have an easier way to avoid it.
7. The rights of the creator are still protected even if books are banned.
No one is stopping an author from writing a book that some people might find to be offensive. Even if the response to a narrative is generally negative, there is always an opportunity to create something else. Although critics can make a valid argument about the fact that the act of banning can impact the income of the writer, there are still specific markets where the works may be found to be acceptable.
List of the Cons of Banning Books
1. It takes the book away from someone who wants to read it.
The idea of the First Amendment is pretty simple: if you don’t like something, then you don’t need to read the book in the first place. Prohibiting the expression of an idea because society finds it to be disagreeable or offensive goes against the wish of the Founding Father. A single disagreement from an individual or a widespread dispute shouldn’t stop others from getting the opportunity to read a book that intrigues them. The role of banning should stay at the family level.
If you as a parent or guardian feel like the material is inappropriate, then it is up to you to look for an alternative solution. It’s not the children who typically need safeguarding either; it’s the books that receive targeting.
2. It creates a false sense of reality for children.
The reality of language, sex, and violence in literature is that most people receive exposure to these elements much earlier in life than a junior-level lit class in high school. Kids learn to swear much earlier in life – and probably know all of the “bad” words even if you don’t realize it. Violence in literature is not limited to stories like The Hunger Games. Even the Harry Potter series has moments of violence in it, despite the fact that many people celebrate the stories.
When there is an action taken to ban books, then this behavior is a reflection of having a closed mind. It speaks to the idea that there is one perspective that holds truth in our world. If your opinion falls outside of that thought, then too bad – your literature is going to be withheld from everyone, like it or not.
3. Books are some of our best teachers.
Books allow us to put the stories of life into their proper context. The narrative teaches us how to speak from an early age. We can learn some of our social skills from the process of reading. It can even be a way to engage new ways to think. The latter issue is usually why people want to bank books in the first place. People often fear the unknown, which means reading something that feels uncomfortable is a threat which needs to be stopped.
The reality of books is that they are our best teachers. There’s a reason why the titles like Brave New World or To Kill a Mockingbird tend to be the ones that instructors choose for their classes repetitively. Instead of constantly challenging these titles by trying to ban them, it might be more useful to have a sit, grab a cocktail, and read the book one one’s own before trying to stop others.
4. Many banned books become celebrated classics of literature.
Almost all of the classics that we read in various literature classes say something that the human race needs to hear. Even the Library of Congress has put together lists of titles that have helped to shape our heritage, each one offering something unique with extraordinary merit. These stories are already designed to confront the various issues of their time, including moral, social, and political problems. Trying to ban the book will not prevent the idea from being unleashed on the rest of the culture. If anything, the act of banning a book creates more of an urge in the general public to read the narrative instead of ignoring it.
5. Books have the capability of changing the world.
There are some books that people have read that have changed their life. Many people can remember where they were when they read the Diary of Anne Frank – and that’s one example of many. Books gives us the chance to confront our problems instead of running away from them by watching the TV or making ourselves so busy that we don’t take time to enjoy a creative narrative.
When there is a restriction of free thought, then we encounter the most dangerous subversion of all. From an American perspective, the idea that one offended person can stop everyone else from enjoying the right to read is about as un-American as it gets.
6. It prevents the exploration process of others.
Challenged books contain themes that are designed to be challenging to the average reader. The goal of the narrative is to make you think when you’re reading the book. You want to know the reasons why characters choose to take the actions that happen. Readers want the chance to question, explore, or even be offended by what they encounter in the narrative. Could this be a bad thing? Critics say that even the decision to act violently is a personal choice that occurs instead of being something that the book inspires.
7. Many efforts to ban books involve personal opinions instead of facts.
In 1983, the Alabama State Textbook Committee called for the banning of Anne Frank because the book was a “downer.” There have been efforts where parents have been considered that there are sexually offensive passages in this young girl’s diary. Although there may be passages in books that may be explicit, there are times when the real world functions the same way. When someone decides to take a gun to a mall to commit a mass shooting, that behavior is a response to specific stimuli. We must look beyond the action to the bigger picture to understand what is happening.
Instead of getting lost in the small moments of a passage, we must take a look at the entire story as a whole. Even controversial books can foster important learning opportunities for many of today’s teens. People tend to make the correct decision if you give them a chance to review all of their options. Banning books stops that process.
8. Tastes and preferences change over the years.
Fox’s TV show The Simpsons is an excellent example of how society changes over the years. When it was first introduced in the 1980s, most evangelicals set the content aside, encouraging others on the further right to avoid it altogether because it was in-your-face. Even First Lady Barbara Bush once called the cartoon “dumb.” Then the attitudes began to change in the early 1990s. There were Bible studies developed to complement the series. People began turning the corner to enjoy their new yellow friends on television.
Banning books, like most forms of criticism, tends to be a knee-jerk reaction to an emotional response. When people take the time to review the content that a narrative contains, then there is always something to be taken from it. Some people don’t like The Simpsons because it is animated, which means it targets their children. It may not always be that way.
9. Banning a book causes kids to crave the narrative.
Kids want to read books that are realistic. When a narrative is timely and topical, then it has an excellent chance of experiencing a successful experience. Many of the banned books have characters going through circumstances that are similar to what they have in their life at that moment. If you ban that material, then the kids (especially teens) are going to go out of their way to get their hands on the product anyway.
There are some uncomfortable issues that many people might not want to address when they pick up something controversial. The characters might be managing problems with sexual assault, divorce, or prejudice. A great example of this issue is the book called The Outsiders. It is banned in many middle schools, but this narrative is also one of the most-cited books that students say turned them onto reading.
Verdict of the Pros and Cons of Banning Books
The American Library Association tracks book challenges each year. Their data goes back to 1990. In 2017, there were 354 book challenges reported in the United States, which was a 9.6% increase from the figures that were filed in the year before. In most years, about 10% of the reported challenges result in a ban or removal from the institution in question. In 2016, half of the top ten most challenge books were removed.
Parents are responsible for one-third of the challenges that occur to books. 56% of the incidents occur at public libraries. Students are responsible for only 1% of the banning requests that occur each year.
The top three reasons for a removal request are for offensive language, a narrative “unsuited” to any age group, or content that’s sexually explicit. When we look at the pros and cons of banning books, we must take a common-sense approach to the subject. Isn’t it interesting that society has concerns about how people will behave after reading a book, but they don’t share that perspective when it comes to something like gun ownership.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.