Let me read in peace

February 2nd, 2012

Last week in The CN’s Hits & Misses section, one of our “misses” was the banning of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in Arizona’s schools.

I can never fathom why anyone would want to ban any book, but I was especially shocked to hear the great bard had fallen victim.

Curious as to what other books were thought unfit for students, I looked it up. Among the banned and challenged classics listed on the American Library Association’s website were F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22” and Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

Also on the list: “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (one of my all-time favorite books). I read it for the first time in sixth grade and many of the themes were difficult to comprehend completely. It’s a story that confronts major issues: racism, rape, treatment of the mentally ill, and injustice.

It was a difficult first read, but because it was challenging I went back to read it for a second, third and fourth time.

Many of these books are censored for various reasons: violence, sexuality, language, or controversial viewpoints. They make people uncomfortable and I think that is exactly why they shouldn’t be banned.

The best works are those that make their readers or audience a bit uncomfortable. They take us out of our comfort zones and teach us something new.

Some of my favorite works were those that made me a bit uncomfortable, but they gave me a new perspective. Sometimes they teach me about a different culture or group of people, transport me to a new world or make me confront difficult issues.

I think it’s funny that in a country where we espouse the value of free speech, we ban literature. If we allow students to read these books, expose them to viewpoints that perhaps aren’t orthodox, but teach them to read it critically, we teach them to evaluate other points of view. Isn’t that what an education should do? Shouldn’t we teach students to challenge what they think they know? Censorship only undermines that goal.

Censorship is a slippery slope; we risk losing that right which we hold most dear (speech) and by banning books, rather than protecting students, I think we harm them.

We should challenge them to read controversial books critically. It tends to be in the controversial works that the most powerful statements are made.

I am grateful to have been exposed to great works that may be questionable to a few. These are the ones that taught me the most about life, the world and human beings.