In recent months we’ve seen a resurgence in debates around the topic of book challenges in school libraries, among parents, school administrators, educators, librarians, and policymakers, across the United States.
Understanding the distinctions between banned, restricted, and challenged books is crucial not only to ensure we’re all speaking the same language, but also to appreciate the implications of these actions on intellectual freedom and education. Let’s unpack the differences between these terms and briefly touch on their significance in shaping the literary landscape within educational institutions.
Implications and Concerns
The acts of banning, restricting, or challenging books are not to be taken lightly, and, particularly in a country like the United States that cherishes its freedoms, these actions raise significant concerns about intellectual freedom, censorship, and education.
While parents and community members may indeed have valid concerns about protecting their children, it is essential to consider the broader implications of unilaterally limiting or denying access to information and diverse perspectives.
Decision-makers at a state or school district level face a difficult task when determining whether to ban or restrict a book that isn’t obviously, grossly inappropriate for schoolchildren. Exposure to a variety of ideas, even controversial or uncomfortable ones, fosters intellectual curiosity, develops critical thinking and encourages students to engage with different perspectives. Removing such opportunities may well limit their ability to think critically and independently.
Book bans in particular can also stifle creativity and artistic expression as well as meaningful and necessary discourse around societal issues. By limiting access to such works, authors are discouraged from tackling and shining a light upon sensitive and important topics through literature. This in turn limits the literary landscape as well as the potential for meaningful discussions, particularly within the home between parent and child, where learning and the love of learning have their origins, as well as in educational and other social settings. Discussions that may in turn lead to broader, necessary, and positive societal change.
Interestingly, book challenges frequently have unintended consequences, such as drawing attention to the very content that some individuals seek to suppress. Attempts to ban or restrict a book often generate publicity and pique interest, resulting in increased curiosity and readership. Thus, these challenges may inadvertently contribute to the popularity of the very books they aim to suppress.
The Answer: Parental Choice
That said, parents and primary caregivers know their children better than anyone else. To be clear, that means better than librarians, superintendents, teachers, principals, the state and the federal government itself. Every child matures and develops at a different rate. Every family also has its own unique beliefs and values and the right to protect and uphold them. As a result, a child’s primary caregivers should without a doubt have the final say about which reading material their child has access to, without limiting the ability of other children to access that same material.
Balancing the concerns of parents with the need to promote critical thinking and expose students to diverse perspectives is undoubtedly a challenge requiring ongoing dialogue and consideration within our educational systems. However, ensuring that each child has access to the material approved by his or her parents is thankfully a much easier task and one that we at BookmarkED are determined to see handled as simply, sensitively and objectively as possible in schools and libraries across the United States.
So, one more time, for clarity’s sake – banned books are outright prohibited, restricted books come with limitations, and challenged books have formal objections against their content but should be still universally available until the outcome of the challenge. Recognizing these differences helps us reflect on the necessity of either restricting or banning books as well as the consequences of limiting access to information, potential infringements on intellectual freedom, and the impact on students' education and development.