Censorship: It is Dangerous

This week I read the article, “A Dirty Little Secret.”  It was written to address the issue of book censorship, both active and subtle. As my eyes moved through the article, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of guilt. I have read books that I have absolutely loved and not shared them. I have self censored. Usually it’s for a few reasons.

  1. I’m not sure if the people I’m sharing the book with would appreciate the issues and themes of the book.
  2. There’s content in the book that I’m somewhat ashamed to admit I’ve read.
  3. The book contains violence, language, or sexual scenes that I’m not comfortable exposing to others.

CC Flickr Wolfgang Maehr

Although I do this with the best of intentions, am I actually harming my students by doing so? Take Ellen Hopkins for example. I went through a stage of absolute obsession with her books. I devoured as many as possible: Crank, Glass, Fallout, Identical, Burned, and Tricks. I loved them for the dark stories, the warnings, and the lessons.

Crank was the story of a young girl who fell in love with the wrong boy. Her infatuation with him led her down a road of drug abuse and addiction. Ellen Hopkins didn’t write the book just to tell a heart-breaking story. She addressed issues adolescents might face and wrote a compelling example of what not to do.

When I read her books, I never recommended them to anyone. It was fear of judgement and fear of their reaction to the very controversial writing that caused me to self-censor. Those books, disturbing as they may seem to others, shaped me as a reader.

I pulled them off the shelves of a library that wasn’t afraid to buy them. I was offered a choice to step into the books I might love or hate. I was given an invitation to explore the world around me; the beautiful and the ugly.

Censoring or self-censoring books denies adolescents a chance to explore their world. We cannot refuse to share books or take them away for the content in the pages. I didn’t begin using meth because I read Crank, but I did learn how horribly a life can be derailed because of it. I didn’t become a sex-slave by reading Tricks, but I did learn how to be more cautious.

I will not forbid books from my students. Books that tend to be censored still provide valuable lessons for our students.

This is not to say I want every 6th grade reader reading Ellen Hopkins. I do believe that censorship should lie in the hands of the parents of the student; not other parents, not myself, not the school system.

I do not have a right to shut down the ability to explore books for my students. I want them to read, to learn, and to grow. Reading books that can be challenging and thought-provoking is every part of that.


12 responses to “Censorship: It is Dangerous

  1. I very much agree that censoring should happen by parents not by the school system. Young adults need to explore the world in books to understand the darkness and dangers of the world. Isn’t it better that they face these horrors in books than for the first time in real life? I also realize that I self-censor and I believe the first step in not censoring the books we read/recommend is to realize that we are doing it. Very interesting blog post!

  2. Yes! Nicky, you and I share many of the same thoughts on this issue. 🙂 I, too, want my students to be able to learn and grow through the books that they read. I don’t want to take away any of those experiences from them during the tough years of being in high school. I believe that many of the challenged books still hold really valuable lessons that students can take away from them. Great post!!

    • Thank you, Regan. I did a lot of thinking, and I think this is the best stance I can take on the issue. Students have a choice, even if I don’t agree with the content.

  3. I really like how you brought up the point that even if we do not like the content of the book, for one reason or another, that does not eliminate the fact that it may have a lesson for someone else. Great post!

    • Thank you! It’s definitely dangerous to rule out books for others just because they don’t line up with our own beliefs. I wouldn’t want someone doing that to me!

  4. Great blog! I really appreciate your honesty by saying you have done the censoring thing a time or two! I think we all have 😦 I think we all need to take that leap of faith that a book can change someone’s life for the better. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. We can’t say that we didn’t try.

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