Wednesday, September 28, 2011

To Ban, or Not to Ban: The Motivations of Censorship

The drive to ban a book is driven by one or two motives: book challengers wish to protect or control. There is a fine line between protecting and controlling.

Person A, when he's upset and deeply disturbed by a book, wants to protect others from having a similar negative experience by suggesting a book ban. Yet the trouble, of course, is that what bothers someone deeply may be treasured and loved by another. If we let whoever gets offended dictate book bans there will simply be no library. There are books I like with religious connotations, like A Wrinkle in Time, which I know some people have challenged because religious messages bother them. So, when I come across a book that really puts me off I try to remember that the freedom to read A Wrinkle in Time is only guaranteed because others are allowed to read what they want as well and that includes books I find repulsive, false or potentially dangerous.

Person B is driven to challenge a book because he fears ideas in the book will cause others to move outside of his control. Person B often thinks he is protecting the others but really it boils down to control. First, ask yourself, can I really control [people's religious beliefs, my child's sexuality, if my neighbor will grow up to be an ax murderer, etc.]? There is next to nothing we can control so the answer, if we're being honest, is likely a no. Secondly, ask, will banning a book containing religious beliefs, sexuality or violence make these issues go away? I think not. These issues are not in our society because someone wrote a book about them; rather, they are issues our society grapples with so authors are writing about them. 

That being said, I do not want to underplay the power of books. I would not have majored in English or gone to school to be a librarian if I believed books do not have the power to change people. Words are not "just words." Words have meaning, they convey ideas and ideas can be persuasive. But we have minds with the power of discernment, too, and if we want others to respect our minds, our rights to our ideas and beliefs and our rights about what we read, then we must, must, must respect others' rights to the same. Down with mind control!

After much thought, I feel these rights ought to be extended to minors as well. I understand the motivation to protect and minors do need protection but do not forget to respect children and teenagers. Respect their right as growing people to make choices about what is wrong and right. Respect their intellectual pursuit, through reading, of figuring out what they believe about the world. Discuss the issues they are reading about -- don't attempt to ban the issues by banning the book because, well, you can't. The issues are here to stay. If we want kids to be strong thinkers, and not just sponges soaking up every idea they come across, then we must allow them to flap their wings, intellectually with reading, when they are ready and be there to support them if they are unsure of the ideas they encounter in the atmosphere in which we live.

Reading is an intellectual pursuit whether it's a romance novel or a graduate student's dissertation that one reads. Reading is a quiet conversation with oneself of which the text is a catalyst. Reading prompts thinking, thinking prompts creativity and creativity solves problems. Encourage reading and support Intellectual Freedom!

Banned Books Week is celebrated Sept. 24-Oct. 1st, 2001. To find out more, visit ALA's website.


  1. I really like your post and I think you're absolutely right that book banners fall into either the protection or control bucket. The intentions for the protectors is at least in the right place, even if they're going about it the wrong way. The control people, well, they're just wrong all the way through. And I feel like it's the control people that are quick to ban books they've never read.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Red. I am always surprised at those who champion a book ban without having read the book. At least those who've bothered to read the text can iterate what they object to about the book. Loss of control is a terrifying feeling and when people are afraid they tend to circle the wagons, become defensive. Offense is the best defense. There are ways to persuade people that a ideas are right/wrong without banning the right to debate them in literature and other texts. It's a mystery!

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