Book bans rob students of expanded worldview

by John Anderson

MCT Campus
MCT Campus

Mark down another win for censorship and intellectual oppression. A concerned parent’s complaint has led to the banning of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” from Missouri’s Republic High School’s English curriculum. The school also removed Sarah Ockler’s “Twenty Boy Summer” from the school’s library. A third book considered for banishment featuring a graphic rape scene was allowed to remain because of its instructional value. The district is now considering applying the standards that led it to ban the books to film and other forms of educational media.

Banning books from schools presents dangerous double standards, is illogical and is less than effective for preserving the moral imperative of our nation’s school children.

Republic’s school board acted on the complaint of Wesley Scroggins. Reuters reported he claimed the novels “create false conceptions of American history and government” and “teach principles contrary to biblical morality and truth.” The board claimed it only considered the age appropriateness of the material in question and dutifully avoided the issues raised by Scroggins.

Let’s ignore the obvious transgressions of the authors’ rights within the First Amendment for a moment and discuss how insulting this is to the students and teachers of RHS. Our society has decided 18 year olds, the average age of high school seniors, are both legally and socially adults. There is a problematic double standard here if high school seniors are considered mature enough to sign their lives away to the military, but not emotionally developed enough to deal with the ideas presented by Vonnegut or Ockler.

Even for younger students, these novels are excellent tools for engaging with course material, teaching analytical skills and exposing them to different views of the world. How these books are threatening baffles me. Is Vonnegut’s semi-autobiographical reflection of his experience during the Allied firebombing of Dresden, Germany so dangerous we must shield our young ones from it? Will Ockler poison and corrupt a young academic’s mind to the extent we must forbid teachers from revealing her words?

Of course, some claim a line must be drawn somewhere. If we let any piece of art into schools, what’s to stop pornography or the insane rants from someone such as Glenn Beck from being readily available to students? I agree, Hustler and Playboy probably shouldn’t line the shelves of high school libraries. What I propose is another set of criteria for determining appropriateness: educational value. If we ignore the issue of age entirely and focus on the efficacy of the material as a teaching tool, we can reach a reasonable compromise.

Unfortunately, the nature of the original complaint casts a disturbing shadow on the motivations of those who put pressure on educational institutions to ban books. There are far too many loud, unreasonable parents and interest groups willing to dig in and fight for the banishment of material that conflict with their worldviews. While Republic’s decision may have been completely motivated by age concerns, shadier curriculum choices in other parts of the U.S. – I’m looking at you, Texas – should give us pause before trusting the intentions of school officials. In order to reduce the influence of uptight parents and interest groups, Republic and other schools considering bans should institute an “opt-out” system, rather than the “opt-in” one they have put in place. While this would likely mean considerably more work for teachers, it would reduce the risk of corruption caused by the ravings of a few ignorant parents.

Ultimately, the banning of “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Twenty Boy Summer” is amusingly futile. Banning the books will likely only drum up increased interest from students, and the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library has since pledged to give out copies of “Slaughterhouse-Five” for free to Republic students. It’s great to see librarians once again standing up for students and the freedom to read. I can only hope weak-willed school boards will see the light and stop caving to the demands of ignorant parents.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email