Reading & Literacy

If You Ban Them, Readers Will Come

February 09, 2009 1 min read

There is a fairly regular stream of stories in the news about schools and districts tackling requests to ban or restrict students’ access to books that a parent or community member finds offensive or inappropriate. I wrote about one case in Fayetteville, Ark., that sparked heated debate over dozens of books, including classics and young adult literature.

Banning books seems to have become a time-honored tradition in some places, and challenges happen so frequently that the American Library Association began commemorating the fight against unreasonable censorship in schools more than 25 years ago with Banned Books Week.

The latest effort in the news is in Stanislaus County, Calif., where the Newman Crows Landing Unified School District voted this month to remove Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima from the reading list for high school sophomores. The superintendent of the district outside San Francisco argued that the vulgar language in the critically acclaimed book—which has earned recommendations from former first lady Laura Bush and the National Endowment for the Arts—offended him.

This Los Angeles Times editorial, however, suggests there were broader issues of religious sensitivity. When school officials start to make such decisions based on complaints from particular interest groups, it can be a slippery slope in which academic considerations are undermined by the demands of vocal outsiders.

What usually results is greater interest in the books deemed inappropriate, as the editorial notes.

“Ever since school officials took aim at Bless Me, Ultima, the local library has been doing a fire-sale business lending it out,” it states. “Young people who are told it won’t be assigned in the classroom, where a teacher presumably would offer some guidance, instead are reading it on their own and delighting in precisely what offends their elders.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.

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