High school is a time of new experiences and changes in a student’s life that help set them on a path to adulthood. The world is changing around these kids and they are coming into social issues they’ve never had to deal before. The issues like fitting in with the popular kids, getting that first date to the big school dance, or even their first high school party. These issues can overload a young teenager so they look to other sources for guidance. Most kids will go to their parents or teachers for help while others will look to upper classmen hoping to become more like them. While these are very black and white other students will look to the media for some sort of clear cut answer. While it seems like movies, television, and music seem to be the big driving force behind most high school students these days, another outlet is reading. Books based on real life social issues such as drugs, gangs, sexuality, religion, and many more questions are posed make them relatable to students of all ages. The problem with all of this is the parents and the school board members believe that students are too young to learn about these issues let alone form an opinion of their own. They are limiting students from finding some sort of light at the end of the dark tunnel that is their high school career. This is a classic form of censorship that is ever present in modern day society. Schools and parents banning certain literature in high schools damage a student’s ability to learn and grow. Censorship is not a new concept in schools and it has intensified throughout the years. Schools used censorship as a means of subduing the parent’s worries of age appropriate material being taught to their children (Lover). Parents have a fear of their children developing dangerous ideals that don’t fit acceptable norms in society (Lover). They think they are only doing what’s best for their kids by trying to shelter them from a lot of every day issues like sex, violence, and drugs. When students get a hold of books containing these issues their parents panic and instantly assume the worst. Parents automatically assume that their son or daughter may take what they are reading out of context and that may somehow scar them for the rest of their life. This type of fear is especially present in religious households where the parents are extremely against such topics being taught to their kids. Skip Lowery a professor of Cultural Arts at Daytona Beach Community College had to deal with such a problem when he taught high school in the 60’s (Lowery 62). While teaching George Orwell’s “1984” a parent of one his students was a local preacher and had taken offense to the fact that his son was being taught what he deemed obscene material, when he couldn’t be taught religion in the school. Lowery used tactics that he developed to deal with such an issue. Lowery stated: “People like the preacher practice what I call the “voodoo principle” of censorship. They seem convinced that if young people read or learn anything about sex, they will immediately begin to have sex, or if they read a novel sympathetic to a homosexual, they will begin to experiment with same sex partners” (Lowery 63). Lowery offered the preacher to sit in on the class so that he could see that the students were able to understand the material in mature way that wasn’t going to warp their mind. Granted that idea is a bit extreme even for that time period but it is an honest concern that some parents have. Students are impressionable, especially in high school when they are stuck in that awkward phase of seeking out acceptance from those around them. So when students bring home books that have to do with risqué topics like high school partying, profane language, experimental drug use etc, and their parents bring up challenges to said book in front of school boards. A challenge is defined as a written complaint has been filed with a library or school about a book’s content or appropriateness (“Censoring School Literature…”). These challenges can be presented at any time and if there are enough in agreement with it then said book/s are pulled from the school. This has been same process for many years and it has been a schools main mean of appeasing the parents.
Schools enforce censorship, for the most part, for entirely different reasons than the parents of their students. On one hand schools do have an obligation to help prepare students to face life in the real world. While on the other hand though schools tend to push a curriculum that often hides the truth behind a safe guard from the student’s impressionable minds (Brezicki 16). Most of the time challenged books are pulled from the libraries or curriculums because the schools fear the parents. Parents threaten some sort legal action or negative publicity of the school and it’s too much for the school boards to handle so they remove said material to appease them. This appeasement often leads to some sort of snowball effect and more challenges are presented and great literature is pulled until the libraries and curriculum is overhauled (“Censorship in Schools…”). All at what cost to the students? They are the true victims out of all of this because they often have no say in the challenges because they are not as organized. Years and years of cultural influences are just taken away from them because their parents are afraid of them forming their own opinions. Schools are also censoring their students in a subtler way that most don’t often think about. The texts books that schools buy for their classrooms are being bought based on what they do and don’t contain content wise (Lord). Schools all over the country buy their text books based on what is bought by Texas school boards. Now I know what you’re thinking, “How is it that one state influences what the country as a whole is taught?” Texas accounts for 8% of America’s $4.5 billion textbook market (Lord). Therefore textbook companies write and rewrite their products to appeal to this market all the while hoping to get the big sale. It’s more about the money for them rather than presenting the facts and truths to the students. These companies respond to these allegations by accepting questions and comments and concerns from people about their product, but do they really listen to any of them? It’s a sad time in history when schools care more about covering for themselves from persecution from disgruntled parents or when they buy the book that is so watered down that it’s practically useless to teach but it’s got the “right” content in it.
What’s so bad about these books though that parents and schools go out of their way to censor and remove them from the libraries or from their curriculum all together? Well that depends on what book you’re talking about. Over the last few decades hundreds of books have been put under examination and extreme scrutiny in an effort to have them put out of reach of students. Since this has covered such a broad time period some books that are timeless classics such as George Orwell’s “1984” or Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” are often challenged due to their content along with many other’s. The American Library Association (ALA) has compiled several lists of books that have been challenged over the 20th century and provides the reasons as to why they are challenged. According to the ALA the top 10 books that have been banned/challenged in the last decade of the 20th century are: 1.Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz
2.Daddy’s Roommate, by Michael Willhoite
3.I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
4.The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
5.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
6.Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
7.Forever, by Judy Blume
8.Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
9.Heather Has Two Mommies, by Leslea Newman
10.The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
(“100 most frequently challenged…”)
While the bulk of this list is contemporary works, several are classic works of literature that have been read and challenged hundreds of times. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a tale of two migrant workers who are traveling through California during the Great Depression looking for work. The characters George Milton, a rather street smart character, and Lennie Small, a gentle giant who is mentally handicapped, share an American dream of owning land and living a good life. The themes of the story include living the dream, loneliness, lack of power, and friendship all of which anyone regardless of the time period can relate to. Many challenges over the years have been raised and portions of the book have made it a target of constant ridicule. Some of the content in question includes the “vulgar use of God’s name”, profane language, racial slurs, and morbid and depressing themes (“Banned and/or Challenged…). Considering the time period in which this book was written said content was seen in everyday life and looked at as normal. Even 75 years later these issues are still present and people still don’t think it’s suitable to be presented to students in school. Another literary classic that is critiqued even more than this is Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The novel tells the story of Huckleberry “Huck” Finn growing up and finding his place in the world during the early 1830’s/40’s. The major themes of the novel include racism, abusive parent, and moral obligations to society. Twain’s use of major social issues like slavery and his rendition of southern American life style often bring this book under fire from parents and community groups looking for its removal. The challenges to this book cite its gratuitous use of racial slurs, profane language, and violence. Recently a corrected version of the novel was reproduced in which all the uses of the racial slur nigger were replaced with the word slave like that is somehow less racist (Brezicki 16). These stories written 75+ years ago are still used in schools today because they are still in some way relatable to social issues that still present in today’s world. Racial insensitivity is present every day because of events like 9/11, after which most middle-eastern people in America became huge targets for vandalism, and brutal physical attacks. Immigrants from other countries are constantly being persecuted for just being here, Mexican immigrants who are just coming here to work and support a family like any other person and are constantly attacked for it. The last example of classic literature is the John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. This novel published in 1939 is set in the great depression and follows the Joads, a family of tenant farmers from Oklahoma who are trying to get up out of there hopeless situation in the Dust Bowl. Drought, economical issues and changes in the financial and agricultural business force them to move west and look for work in California. This book was extremely controversial at the time of its release because of its use of vulgar language as well as taking jabs at religious figures. One of the main characters is a former preacher who lost his faith after he recounts his times of taking advantage of female members of his church. He also starts to claim that religion doesn’t offer the answers that people want in life. Obviously these themes were bound to ruffle some feathers because religion like today was still a big part of the house hold so parents were disgusted at the fact that the church was portrayed in such a negative light. Classical works aren’t the only targets for censorship in schools today. A lot of modern books are constantly being challenged because they are starting to tackle a different spectrum of social issues that teens are dealing with. High school students today are facing a lot of new problems in their lives and they’re constantly looking for a hand to help guide them. The ALA compiled a list of modern works that were the most challenged books of 2000 to 2009 and they are: 1.Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
2.Alice (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3.The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
4.And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5.Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
6.I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by May Angelou
7.Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz
8.His Dark Materials (series) by Philip Pullman
9.Ttyl; ttfn; l8er g8er (series) by Lauren Myracle
10.The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
(“Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009”)
In an age of cyber-communication nothing and no one is off limits from peoples view. Lauren Myracle’s book series ttyl; tffn; l8r,g8r series covers some of these issues from the point of three high school students. The series follows three girls Angela Silver (SnowAngel), Zoe Barrett (zoegirl), and Maddie Kinnick (mad maddie) as they start their sophomore year of high school. The first book follows the girls dealing with issues like first big crushes, inappropriate teachers, relationship issues, and embarrassing high school parties. The girls also have to deal with internal fighting among themselves in which they actually stop being friends. Now if that’s not relatable enough to most teenage girls the first book is written entirely in instant messaging slang which has become almost the norm today. Now granted this isn’t my kind of book series but it is a perfect example of a book series written for the high school masses and with that has some very mature themes to it. These themes made it the most challenged book in 2009 and 2011 for its content of offensive language, religious views, and being sexually explicit (“Frequently Challenged Books…). Another book that is often challenged is written by Ellen Hopkins called Crank. The story follows the rise and fall of Kristina Snow, a straight-A student who decides to visit her father for three weeks where she meets a local druggie and falls into the use of meth. Over the course of the book themes of suicide, rape and juvenile deliquesces are all addressed in great detail. By the end of the novel the main character struggles with getting an abortion of her baby that was conceived after being raped. Hopkins drew inspiration for this story from her daughter’s addiction to crystal meth and because of this it’s actually a required reading for many high schools and even used in drug courses. In 2010 this was the fourth most challenged book of the year because of its use of drugs, offensive language, and sexually explicit situations (“Frequently Challenged Books…”). Now granted this book is a bit of an extreme situation for a high school student but it is possible and some girls do need something relatable to help get them through it. A final example that is to the day one of the most challenged books of the 21st century is Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being A Wallflower (“Frequently Challenged Books…). The book follows the main character Charlie beginning his first year of high school and all of his trials and tribulations. Charlie is an awkward kid who has a lot emotion issues mostly stemming from the death of his Aunt Helen on his seventh birthday. Along with that his only real friend that he had Michael killed himself several months before the events of the story takes place. All of this leads to Charlie trying to find his place in the school while fighting his own personal demons. He befriends two seniors Sam, a misfit girl who’s trying to find the right guy but is constantly hurt relationship after relationship, and her step-brother Patrick, a slacker dude who is as he puts it “queerer than a $3 bill” and struggles with his own hidden relationship with the star quarterback who’s still in the closet. This book has become a huge hit amongst many kids in schools because of its wide variety of topics that it covers. Everyone could relate one way or another and that led to its success and the launch of the feature film in 2012. With such a wide array of issues presented in the book of course it was bound to ruffle a few feathers among parents and schools. It first appeared high on the challenged books list in 2004 because the offensive language, homosexual and sexual content which a lot of parents were uncomfortable with. It fell down a ways in ’05 but then started to jump around the top 10 books from 2006 to 2009 this time citing reasons of the book being anti-family, drug use, offensive language, religious views, suicide, and the homosexual and sexual content (“Frequently Challenged Books…). It’s amazing how in two years a ton of issues that weren’t realized to begin with have now been brought to light and making this book even more relatable to young teens and as always piss off more parents and school board members. Now here’s the question that everyone wants an answer to. What harm could censoring these books actually do to these kids? How are the kids going to be effected by all of this? Well in all honesty it could have some drastic and severely negative effects on them, both academically and socially. Academically the banning of books and altering a school’s curriculum narrows a student’s view of the world around them. The textbooks that are in everyday classrooms contain information that is voted on by different political and social groups (Lord). This “adoption” of information is disputed between the groups constantly until the book is so saturated and worthless that none of the students can learn from them. Traditional groups want democracy and enterprise presented in a better light, while progressives ask for more minority and women representation (Lord). Because of these groups constantly nitpicking and destroying facts that are going into these textbooks all the students are left with is a useless clump of information that they don’t know what to do with. Mary Lord makes an awesome point in her article Remaking History talking about how even if the teachers were able to pick their own textbooks for their classes it still may not be enough. “…for subjects like social studies; 4 in 5 of the nation’s middle and high school social studies teachers neither majored nor minored in history. No wonder American students score lower on history tests than in any other subject—including math. Fewer than half of high school seniors demonstrated even basic knowledge of U.S. history on the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (Lord).” These teachers can’t even teach students basic history with these materials and it’s been proven by the test scores. It’s all about the money to the book companies and they don’t even care about the student’s intellectual growth. Just like political and cultural groups getting involved in the content selection process parents have just as much if not more influence on what goes in it. Parents hate to see their kids learn about controversial issues without influencing their opinion somehow. When teachers plan to use these kinds of materials they plan it in a way that stimulates student’s ability to think and get involved intellectually (Lover). School is a time for the students to get a grasp on society’s issues and with parents going through and trimming away what they deem as inappropriate students aren’t ready for the world when they leave school. This type of censorship also takes away any interest student’s have of literature which can affect the way they learn language and literacy in English classes even in higher level education (Lover). A final case of damage on academic censorship goes back to how authors write their literature to avoid controversy. In Lovers article an idea is introduced about authors writing and how it trickles down to the students: “This introduces the idea that if so many authors’ texts are being censored, how will censorship affect future literature? Will authors forever fear writing about certain controversial issues because their books might be banned? If this is true, then what does it say for the future of literature? If we continue to overly censor literature that actually helps students rather than harm them, we take the chance of limiting authors on they can write… (Lover)”
If these issues can’t be written about then what is going to spark these kids to learn about the topics at all. Students need inspiration to learn and if parents and schools continue to censor and trim away such topics then their academics are going to suffer because of it.
Social growth in high school is in my opinion the most important experience students face in their lives. Modern books like the ones I mentioned earlier revolve around characters, who like their readers, are going through the trial and tribulations of finding their way in high school and they are in need of guidance. Parents go about censoring this material because they know that this is an impressionable time for their kids and automatically assume that they are going to act against societal “norms” because of it. What the parents don’t understand though is that students can learn about all these issues and still live normal productive lives without acting out. A teacher’s job is to help guide students through this controversial material so that the kids can become adults and form opinions of their own. Books like Crank and The Perks of Being a Wallflower present very relatable issues like drug use, and first time sexual experience in a way that doesn’t influence the students but helps guide them to make their own informed decision and live with it. Parents are too worried that these young adults are making choices that aren’t like their own and therefore deemed inappropriate (Lover). Literature is something that students can use to help make them think of their world around them differently. Brezicki says in his article The Elephant in the Classroom “They’re not afraid of books that upend their universe and challenge their clichéd world, that make them rethink the familiar and confront the unfamiliar and even the apparently bizarre.” The students realize new outlets in their lives and they see through the world their parents are constantly trying to put on them. Because of this parental influence it actually forces their children to start turning against them and develop that negative attitude that they were afraid of in the first place.
Now like every major issue presented there is always two sides to it and censorship is no different. A lot schools that use censorship use it as a way to “protect” to protect the students from suffering provable physical, social, emotional, or intellectual harm as well as the teachers and school (Petress). Parents and teachers feel like they have an obligation to keep harmful words and images from the students as a means to keep the students “innocence” intact (Brezicki). There are thousands of students from all kinds of ethnic, financial, and religious backgrounds that come through the American school system every year and they’re constantly bombarded by information of all kinds that could overwhelm them and schools and parents use censorship to help filter it all out. Some literature is censored because of its impressionable content that it contains. One such example is Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf (My Struggle) which was written as a way to persuade and be impressionable on those who read it. High school students are at an impressionable age where they are influenced by a lot of what they hear and see around them. Mein Kampf was written to push Hitler’s racist ideals and pull more people to his cause in World War II. A teacher would be instantly vilified for teaching this book in a classroom of students because they would be seen as pushing Hitler’s anti-Semite ideas and creating a group of Neo-Nazi’s. This book is more of a collegiate level book because the students are adults and can make their own decision about such an idea (Lover). A lot of the time books are brought into question because of their appropriateness in the school environment. Schools are a place of learning and find that uses of foul language and sexually explicit content are not safe for the students and fear the damage that may come from it (Petress). In a world that is fueled by an over saturated pop culture of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll it’s a schools priority to help keep kids on the fast track to success and sometimes controlling what the students learn about is the only way to keep that goal in site.
Now granted some of these pros make sense. Students are quite impressionable and we can’t have situations like having a bunch of new Nazi’s running around schools because of Mein Kampf. That just doesn’t bode well for anyone but other instants of censorship could never pose such a threat to the students. Censoring a piece of literature is an extreme action that can be handled in better ways so that students aren’t negatively impacted by it in the end. Depending on the issue teachers and parents can prepare their students so that they aren’t shocked and confused and get the wrong idea of the world. Racial issues are often censored because the schools fear backlash from the community. When it comes to books like Huckleberry Finn which constantly uses racial slurs and racial insensitivity teachers should first off warn the students and parents and answer any questions and comments that come out of it. This way it’s not a total shock to them when they see these slurs. It also leads to a better understanding of the time period in which these books were written. Skip Lowery gave some good examples of ways to handle angry parents, in this case the preacher, who had a problem with Orwell’s 1984. “Another tactic is to invite would-be censors, as we did the preacher, to come to class. If he saw how the students and I talked about the novel, we reasoned, he would realize that such reading and discussion did not necessarily lead to licentious behavior (Lowery).” He also presents the idea of turning the tables on the would-be censors in his classrooms by doing the same thing they do to him. “Let me pass on another tactic I have learned. When individuals or groups question curriculum materials, ask them what they like to substitute. Then put their choice under the same scrutiny they used with the materials you chose (Lowery).” These two tactics alone will be useful in handling any kind of censorship issue that arises, whether it is racial insensitivity, foul language, or even sexually explicit content. Personally I think parents and school officials jump straight to censorship because they feel as the content is to hot button and it reminds them of experience they had in their past. In the article by Brezicki he references Carl Jung’s theory of a dark side that people suppress due to the fear of facing it. Maybe the parent dealt with the issues of drug use or abuse that are presented in these books and don’t want to see their kids getting the wrong impression of the situation, so instead of sitting down and talking to their son or daughter they form a vindictive witch hunt to ban said material. The parents are uncomfortable and so they think they can protect their children from the same feeling but that’s what life is all about. Censoring these books isn’t going to stop their children from being uncomfortable with new experience if anything it’s only going to make them more confused and lead them to make wrong choices. When parents aren’t open about these issues it drives their kids to other places like books for the answers. A student in Brezicki’s article is quoted saying “I read to feel less lonely in the world, not to be alone. I read because some characters are more real to me than the world around that I am in now and the questions my mom asks me are no longer as important… (Maddie K.).” Instead of destroying their kid’s only safe haven in the world maybe parents should become one for them. In the end censorship is going to keep happening in schools no matter what which isn’t in all a bad but it needs to be tamed and monitored so that it doesn’t escalate out of control. Parents are always going to think they are doing what’s best for their kids while schools are trying to keep the parents happy at the cost of knowledge to student. Not only will this continue to affect the students but imagine what is going to happen to future authors and the works of literature they will produced. They are going self-censor in fear of being made a spectacle in the public eye because there was some parent or school board member who didn’t like what they had to say, and with technology today a small community event could escalate into a global phenomenon over night. Things are always changing these days and with the way everyone is extremely politically correct there is always going to be groups of people who are upset with something someone wrote whether it is an actual book that is published and put on the library bookshelf for anyone to read or an article wrote in the local student paper. Censorship is going to happen and Schools and parents banning certain literature in high schools damage a student’s ability to learn and grow.
“100 most frequently challenged books: 1990-1999”, Web. American Library Association, 10/2012 “Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 novels of the 20th century”, Web. American Library Association, 10/2021 " Censorship In Schools And The Effects On Our Children”, Lifescript.com. Women's Health Issues | Women's Health Questions & Answers | Women's Health Articles | Lifescript.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2012. “Frequently challenged books of the 21st century”, Web. 10/2012 “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009” Web. American Library Association, 10/2012.
Bell, Mary Ann. “The Elephant in the Room” (2007) School Library Journal Article Vol. 53 Issue 1, p 40-42 Brezicki, Colin G. “The Elephant in the Classroom” (2012) Phi Delta Kappan Vol. 93 Issue 6, p 16-19 Kelly, Melissa. “Censorship and Book Banning in America”, Web, About.com, (2012) Lord, Mary. “Remaking History”, U.S. News & World Report, 11/25/2002, Vol. 133 Issue 20, pg 46. Lover, Couture . “Censorship: The Negative Effects Parents Don’t Know About” 2009 Web. Yahoo.com (2012) Lowery, Skip. “Fighting curriculum censorship”, (Nov ’98) Education Digest Vol. 64 Issue 3, p 62-64 Petress, Ken. “The Role of Censorship in School”, Journal of Instructional Psychology, Article, Sep. 2005, Vol. 32 Issue 3, p 248-252