Banned Books: What Aren’t We Teaching Children?

Sarah Baird, Pawprint Staff Reporter

Recently, school districts across the country have made headlines for taking controversial books off the shelf, including “Maus” and “Gender Queer.” This has sparked outrage nationwide.

“Hiding… [images from “Maus”] from children purposefully ignores the mechanized gruesomeness of the Holocaust,” Emma Sarappo wrote for the Atlantic. “And… [the removal of Maus] isn’t a side effect of an otherwise neutral attempt to keep classrooms wholesome. As I wrote in December, getting rid of books that spotlight bigotry is the goal.”

Sarappo is correct. That is especially apparent with books such as “Heather Has Two Mommies,” which does not have any reason to be banned other than parents not wanting books with LGBT+ representation available to their children.

Not allowing children to read about books highlighting underrepresented groups is harmful to everyone in multiple ways.

First of all, it is a stumbling block for children learning how to love people who are different than them, a critical lesson in ending discrimination. Discrimination stems from hate and misunderstanding. As Margaret Wheatley said, “You can’t hate someone whose story you know.” Reading is crucial to the development of empathy, especially when the book has characters who have drastically different experiences than many readers. 

Another harm of removing these books is that it prevents children from the groups that most banned books show (such as gay and Black students) from seeing themselves in a world that often ignores their existence. Not seeing yourself reflected in books as often as others must feel isolating. Books are mirrors and windows. It is the responsibility of people who determine what books students are reading to ensure that both mirrors and windows are available to every student.

“Mirrors allow us to see ourselves,” ELA teacher Terry Kawi wrote for PBS. “They show us what we look like, they let us examine ourselves, and they can give us a glimpse of our ancestry and heritage…When choosing stories, they should reflect images of our students’ multiple identities and the world we truly live in. Seeing ourselves in literature is a gift. It is an empowering experience as a reader to see a protagonist who has a similar name to us and shares a similar background. It is uplifting to meet a character who is like you in some way and relate to them, watch them develop and grow over time in a way that is not cliche. It is inspiring to read an author’s work whose voice feels like that of a family member…These mirrors help us see ourselves in relation to the world and help us build connection and a sense of belonging.” 

Yet another way banning these books is harmful is that it hinders future generations’ abilities to help solve the problems the banned books show. Banning books showing the problem with hatred towards marginalized groups prevents students from taking steps to end discrimination. This is because most students will grow up unaware of the extent of problems like racism. The world deserves better. 

Banning books harms everyone, especially children, and the practice should stop.