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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Are Books Dangerous

A young girl named Alice is sitting by a riverbank when she sees a white rabbit with a pocket watch run by. She followed the rabbit down a rabbit hole and found herself in a strange hallway with many locked doors. There is also a table with a key on it. She tries the key and discovers it fits one of the doors, but the door is too small for her to fit through. She places the key back on the table, then drinks liquid from a bottle she finds on the table with a label that says, “Drink me.” This causes her to shrink to a size small enough to fit through the door. The only problem is that she can no longer reach the table she’d left the key on. She finds a cake with a label that says, “Eat me.” She does as instructed, then grows to an enormous height. Feeling lost, confused, and helpless, Alice begins to cry. At her enormous height it doesn’t take long for her tears to flood the hallway.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a familiar story for most people. It has been a childhood classic since the 1800’s. Few people in America would see this story as potential harmful for children. In 1931, however, the General Ho Chien banned the book in China. His reasoning is that it anthropomorphised animals, placing them on the same level as human beings. He felt that this would teach children to value animals at the same level as human beings, and that this would have disastrous results. Book banning is not a new phenomenon. Books have been banned for various reasons throughout time and across civilizations.

In America today there are often debates about whether or not certain books should be banned from school and public libraries. The Harry Potter series is one example of this. This series was banned from the St. Mary’s Island Church of England school in Kentucky. This series has been one of the most challenged in America. Many parents and religious organizations worried that this series promoted witchcraft, and may even lead to readers becoming witches.

Other parents worried that the characters in the book set a bad example with their disobedience. According to one of its teachers, Carol Rockwood, “The bible is very clear and consistent in its teachings that wizards, devils and demons exist and are very real, powerful and dangerous and God’s people are told to have nothing to do with them. I believe it is confusing to children when something wicked is being made to look fun” (Ross). Another example of attempts to restrict written language is when Donald Trump attempted to ban the publication of a book written by Michael Wolff that criticizes Trump’s presidency. Should a government be able to ban books? If so, what are the limits? Should there be criteria that has to be met before a book can be justifiably banned, or is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens justification enough?

Think of the Children

Many parents and religious groups believe that the government should not ban books overall, but that certain books should at least be banned from school and public libraries. They argue that books with offensive language, sexual content, and violence are too mature for younger audiences that may be exposed to them.

There is no doubt that some controversial books can have content that is difficult for even adult readers to stomach. One such book is The 120 Days of Sodom, by the Marquis De Sade.

The violent sexual acts described in this book are the reason we now have the word sadism, inspired by the author of this book. The book had been banned in many countries, and is still banned in Australia. At on point the book reads, “And while encunting Adelaide, the scoundrel fancied to himself, as had the Duc, that he was fucking his murdered daughter; O incredible distraction of the mind of a libertine, who can naught hear, naught see, but he would imitate it that instant!” (De Sade 293). It is easy to see why this content would be considered offensive, and why some parents may not want their children exposed to it.

The Supreme Court eventually had to make a decision on book banning in school libraries. In the case of Island Trees School District v. Pico the Supreme Court determined that books could not be removed from a school library because school officials dislike its ideas. They are, however, able to remove the book if it is inappropriate for children of the school.

Some people believe there should be a rating system for books, similar to the ones in place for things like t.v., movies, music, and video games. Sarah Coyne, an associate professor in the Department of Family Life at BYU, states, “I think we put books on a pedestal compared to other forms of media,” Coyne says. “I thought long and hard about whether to do the study in the first place—I think banning books is a terrible idea, but a content warning on the back I think would empower parents” (Koebler). This kind of rating system would make it much easier for parents to monitor what their children are reading. It would also make it easier for school libraries to know which books have been deemed appropriate for which age groups.

Censorship Infringes on Intellectual Freedom

Many teachers, librarians, the American Library Association, and parents on the other side of the issue claim that the censorship of books should not be allowed in any form, not even in school libraries. They argue that the censorship of books is the latest form of book burning. Dwight D. Eisenhower once stated of book banning, “Don’t join the book burners… Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.”

The biggest argument made against the banning of books is that it allows governments to have too much power by keeping the population ignorant. There are many examples of this being done, starting in 1487 with Pope Innocent VIII requiring that books be approved by the Vatican prior to publishing. Another example of this is pre-abolition state laws that made it illegal to teach slaves how to read. The fear was that in learning to read, slaves would be able to write passes, which slave owners would give to slaves so they could move from one place to another, for themselves so they could escape. They were also worried that slaves would be able to write up and read insurrection plans. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas is quoted saying, “Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.” Many are afraid that banning books could give governments or specific groups of people a similar level of power today.

A major concern on a more localized level is that removing books from school and public libraries is an infringement on intellectual freedom. The American Library Association has been at the forefront of the debate on banning books in school libraries. They are strongly opposed to this form of censorship, and even have a link on their website that allows others to report any censorship that is occuring in their communities. Fran Falk-Ross states, “Specifically, ALA defines censorship as ‘the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons, individuals, groups or government officials find objectionable or dangerous.’”

Another argument is that mature content provides children and adults the opportunity to have discussions about difficult subjects. Violence, sex, racism, and offensive language are part of our world. Those against censorship argue that shielding children from this reality is not going to prepare them. Giving them the chance to read about these things, then discussing them openly with you, will help them understand these difficult topics and enter the world prepared to handle them. Judy Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week national committee, is quoted saying,

“Well-intentioned efforts eventually become counter-productive, depriving young adults of the opportunity to begin to understand the difficult realities that are a part of our world and theirs.” She goes on to say books, “provide a non-threatening framework within which these issues can be safely explored and discussed” (Flood).

Hate Speech Leads to Hate Crimes

Many members of Jewish groups, holocaust survivors, and those who fear the neo-nazi movement that has recently gained lots of media attention fear that allowing people to purchase the autobiographical book Mein Kampf, written by Adolf Hitler, will inspire a rise in neo-nazi membership and violence.

Hitler knew how to connect with his audience. His speech and propaganda inspired a nation to rise against an entire race of people. While not all Germans were aware of the genocide that was taking place, the vast majority took no issue with the Jews being confined first to ghettos, then to “work camps”. Many worry that his written speech will have the same impact his spoken speech had. Head of the Jewish community in Munich, Charlotte Knobloch, stated, “This book is most evil; it is the worst anti-Semitic pamphlet and a guidebook for the Holocaust. It is a Pandora’s box that, once opened again, cannot be closed” (Faiola).

There is no denying that this book promotes hate, and that many neo-nazis idolize Hitler and ascribe to his teachings. In recognition of Hitler, the Nationalist Socialist Movement held a march on his birthday in Newnan, Georgia. Many residents were upset by this event, and wanted to ban it altogether. Congressman Drew Ferguson of Georgia stated, “Every citizen has the constitutional right to express their First Amendment freedoms to free speech and protest, but the racist views of neo-Nazis are completely abhorrent.” He went on to ask the community, “to stand together to show that there is no place for hate or intolerance in Georgia’s Third District” (Persio). This was not the only rally held by a white supremacist group in America. 32 year old Heather Heyer, an anti-racist protester, was killed at a Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, after James Alex Fields Jr. ran his vehicle into the crowd she was in. It was clear from his social media pages that Fields looked up to Hitler and had adopted his views. Field’s indictment reads, “On these accounts, Fields expressed and promoted his belief that white people are superior to other races and peoples.” It continues, “expressed support of the social and racial policies of Adolf Hitler and Nazi-era Germany, including the Holocaust; and espoused violence against African Americans, Jewish people and members of other racial; ethnic and religious groups he perceived to be non-white” (Weills).

It is clear that some ideas are dangerous. As we have seen, many people feel that the best response to this is complete censorship of those ideas. Their argument is that censorship is necessary to ensure public safety, which is one of the primary purposes of government. When ideas lead to the deaths of innocents, they believe it is the government’s duty to censor those ideas.

Literacy Is A Superpower

I remember when my son was in kindergarten and we would spend our evenings working on sight words. “Why do I have to learn how to read?” my son asked on one such evening. “Because your brain is your superpower, and with it you can find ways to do things people think are impossible. Reading is how you exercise your brain,” I answered. This is something I believe strongly, and have shared this message with him many times since.

Because of this belief I am filled with joy anytime I see Danny choose to read, whether it’s a comic book or a classic. I do not censor anything he reads. It is more important to me that he not be discouraged from reading than that he is sheltered from the world’s realities. While this philosophy has led to some awkward conversations, I feel that he is better off from our having had them, and know that he feels comfortable turning to me for information on uncomfortable subjects. Not only is he more educated on certain subjects, he has taken to educating his peers as well. I remember one of his friends coming over after school when Danny was in first grade.

They were playing video games, and at one point his friend said, “That’s gay!”. Danny replied, “That’s not gay. Gay is when one man has sex with another man.” I haven’t heard his friend utter those words since.

I feel that communication is what helps determine whether the power of knowledge is used for good or for evil. Mein Kampf can inspire hate and violence, but it can also teach us why tolerance is important, and how to spot and stand against tyranny. Rather than having white supremacist groups sharing Mein Kampf with our youth, parents and teachers should be sharing it with them. We can explain the problems with Hitler’s arguments as they read it. We can help them understand what these views led to, why it was wrong, and what circumstances made it possible. We can use this book to teach them empathy and compassion. Or we can let white supremacist groups use it to teach our impressionable youth hatred. They will be exposed to a variety of ideas no matter how hard we try to stop it. It’s up to us to arm them with the knowledge they need to defend themselves against the dangerous ones.

Works Cited

Faiola, Anthony. “‘Mein Kampf’: A Historical Tool, or Hitler’s Voice From Beyond the Grave?” Huffington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/mein-Kampf-a- historical-tool-or-hitlers-voice-from-beyond-the-grave/2015/02/24/f7a3110e-b950-11e4-bc30-a4e5503948a_story.html?utm_term=.fb751b981aae. Accessed 22 July 2018. Falk-Ross, Fran, and Jeannetta Caplan. “The Challenge of Censorship.” Reading Today, 30 Apr, 2008, pp. 20. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://sks.sirs.com/webapp/article?artno= 0000293796&type=ART. Accessed 17 July 2018.

Flood, Alison. “Author Lauren Myracle Calls on Overprotective Parents to Stop Banning Books.” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/25/author-lauren-myracle-calls-on-overprotective-parents-to-stop-banning-books. Accessed 22 July 2018.

Gopnik, Adam. “Does ‘Mein Kampf’ Remain A Dangerous Book?” The New Yorker, 12 January, 2016, https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/does-mein-kampf-remain-a-Dangerous-book. Accessed 18 July 2018

Koebler, Jason. “Is it Time to Rate Young Adult Books for Mature Content?” U.S. News, https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/05/18/is-it-time-to-rate-young-adult-books- for-mature-content. Accessed 22 July 2018.

McMorran, Will. “‘The Most Impure Tale Ever Written’: How The 120 Days of Sodom Became a ‘Classic.’”The Guardian, 7 October, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/ oct/07/marquis-de-sade-120-days-of-sodom-published-classic. Accessed 18 July 2018

Staff, ProQuest. Censorship Timeline. “Censorship Timeline.”, 2018. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://sks.sirs.com/webapp/article?artno=0000268379&type=ART. Accessed 17 July 2018.

Weills, Kelly. “Neo-Nazi Accused of Killing Protester in Charlottesville Texted, ‘We’re Not the Ones Who Need to Be Careful.’” The Beast, https://www.thedailybeast.com/neo-nazi-accused-Of-killing-protester-in-charlottesville-texted-were-not-the-ones-who- need-to-be-careful. Accessed 22 July 2018.

Winerip, Michael. “Book Banning in U.S. Classrooms and Libraries.” Family Circle, https://www.familycircle.com/teen/school/issues/book-banning-in-us-classrooms-and-libraries/. Accessed 18 July 2018.

Ross, Shmuel. “Harry Potter Banned? Why do Some Parent’s Want to Ban the World’s Favorite Wizard?” Infoplease. https://www.infoplease.com/harry-potter-banned. Acessed 18 July 2018.

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