I remember reading “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak when I was in seventh grade.
“The Book Thief” is a story about a young girl living in Nazi Germany. I remember there being one key scene in the book that had a profound impact on me.
In the story, the young girl witnesses a mass book burning being carried out. She risks her life to sneak a book from the flames.
As a middle schooler who was enamored by written words and the stories and lessons they contained, the thought of being forced to witness or even give up books to be burned was appalling to me.
Similarly, reading “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury and “1984” by George Orwell in high school had a similar effect on me for moments of book destruction/alteration and media censorship that took place within those stories.
The chief aim of these stories is to call attention to the dangers of media censorship and the damaging effect such censorship can have on what it means to be human.
Ironically, “Fahrenheit 451” and “1984” are among the most frequently banned books in libraries, schools, and bookstores.
Even “The Book Thief”, though it has not been officially banned, has been challenged when included in school curriculums.
In my own secondary grade school experience, I am grateful that many book’s which are frequently banned, were not.
Media censorship represents several very real problems, including restriction of ideas, expression, and the development of critical thinking.
Advocates of book bans–a form of media censorship–often cite reasons rooted in shielding others, particularly children, from the contents of stories like these.
They might claim the topics and themes are offensive, graphic, or inappropriate.
I don’t disagree that frequently banned novels such as “Lord of the Flies”, “The Giver”, and “To Kill A Mockingbird” among others deal with difficult and challenging topics, but that is exactly why they must not be censored.
To censor media gives in to the dangers in which it warns against.
It is unfortunate that our world has seen so much injustice and violence.
Yet it is a stark reality, and shielding individuals from books that portray such does not make the past go away.
Nor does it necessarily eliminate it from our future.
In fact, only by having guided, supportive, and empathetic conversations about this type of media can we build a more enlightened future that does not repeat the wrongdoings of history.
Only by discussing such difficult topics can we develop critical thinkers who understand the complex workings of humanity and how we can do better for all people.
Restricting access to information that challenges norms leaves us blind and close-minded.
I find it particularly distressing that books like “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker which, while being fiction, deal with the harsh realities faced by marginalized populations; expressing difficult truths allows us to acknowledge them.
Furthermore, as far as expression goes, in the United States, it is a constitutional right to be able to do so through the media.
Among other rights, the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech and the press.
That means our right to express ideas and information cannot be infringed upon. Banning books seems to me to be a violation of such.
Expressing ideas and information then, is a fundamental right.
Sometimes that information is challenging and uncomfortable to grasp.
But that is where education comes in.
Education is about cultivating curious minds and critical thinkers. It is about fostering an empathetic future by having difficult conversations.
Eliminating media simply because it is considered by some to be offensive or does not align with personal ideals does not aid education; if anything, it deters it.
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