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Banning Books Also Bans Critical Thinking.

September 11, 2022

If you’re looking for something to read, you might want to consult the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books by year. The ALA has been tracking this information since 1990.

If you are a reasonably educated person, and especially if you are an avid reader, you will have likely read a number of these titles already.

And yes, the bible did make the top 10 in 2015 for “religious viewpoint,” though I am surprised that other issues, including violence, incest, and sexually explicit content, were not cited. (Genesis 19:30-38 and 38:11-30 are two eye-openers for would-be book banners who mistakenly believe the bible is sterile reading.)

Some titles that have made the list repeatedly include the following, with reasons for the ban:

George by Alex Gino

  • Reasons (2020): Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
  • Reasons (2019): challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy; for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure.”
  • Reasons (2018): banned, challenged, and relocated because it was believed to encourage children to clear browser history and change their bodies using hormones, and for mentioning “dirty magazines,” describing male anatomy, “creating confusion,” and including a transgender character.
  • Reasons (2017): Written for elementary-age children, this Lambda Literary Award winner was challenged and banned because it includes a transgender child.
  • Reasons (2016): challenged because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels.”

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

  • Reasons (2021): Banned and challenged because it depicts child sexual abuse and was considered sexually explicit.
  • Reasons (2020): Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse.
  • Reasons (2014): sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues.”
  • Reasons (2013): offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence.
  • Reasons (2006): offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  • Reasons (2020): Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience.
  • Reasons (2017): This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.
  • Reasons (2011): offensive language, racism.
  • Reasons (2009): offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group.

The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

  • Reasons (2009): nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.
  • Reasons (2007, 2006, 2005): offensive language, sexually explicit, violence.
  • Reasons (2004): offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence.
  • Reasons (2002): offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

Other likely-familiar titles included in the ALA’s annual top 10:

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

The Kite Runner written by Khaled Hosseini

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Beloved, by Toni Morrison

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

For those who would ban books, here is something to consider:

Developing critical thinking skills requires that human beings are confronted with the unfamiliar and (perhaps therefore) uncomfortable and that we intellectually wrestle with that which does not fit readily and neatly into our current world schemas. To not allow students to be exposed to a variety of reading materials– and to insist that developing minds be “saved” from what others deem unpleasant– is to stymie the growth of the human mind and, ultimately, maturity of the human will.

Rather than rush to ban, a far better option would be to cultivate cross-generational relationships (e.g., parent/guardian-to-child) in which open, nonjudgmental, respectful communication is the norm and to develop a habit of reading and discussing books together.

If you feel a book that interests your child is age-inappropriate, consider setting a date in the future to read and discuss.

Besides, the surest way to prompt a young people to read a book is to vehemently campaign for a book to be off limits. Social media thrives on such undesired popularity.

Food for thought.

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5 Comments
  1. speduktr permalink

    I wish I didn’t feel like you are preaching to the choir, but I have a suspicion that those people whose minds are so closed to anything that doesn’t fit neatly into their own world view are not likely to be reading your blog. I do hope that through your work as a teacher you do get to address the issue of book banning more directly. In any case, I will keep reading a long as you are writing.

    • Peggy Schwarz permalink

      True, but we still have to put our counter-argument out there for the benefit of others – to guard against more people who may be on the fence buying into their censorship ideas by default.

      • speduktr permalink

        Absolutely no disagreement. What Mercedes writes needs to be out there. Change doesn’t happen if we do nothing, and we never know what is going to resonate with someone.

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  1. Mercedes Schneider: The Value of Reading Banned Books | Diane Ravitch's blog

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