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For The Lansing Journal’s first-ever editorial contest, we partnered with the freshmen class at Unity Christian Academy. Every student in the 26-student class wrote an editorial about something they care about, and submitted them to The Lansing Journal. Publisher Melanie Jongsma and Managing Editor Josh Bootsma read the editorials and picked four winners and one honorable mention based on criteria including: making a claim, persuasion and analysis, evidence, local impact, and language and voice. Winners will be published daily starting April 25, 2022.
By Annika Zekveld
The world is, undoubtedly, full of great literature. Yet some of the most highly-praised books have now been removed in certain areas, the most common being public libraries and schools. This censorship is called book banning. Crowds such as school and library boards vote to stop offering books that contain elements such as racism, violence, offensive language, and certain religious standpoints. They become hard to find if enough organizations refuse to provide them. Literature should not be banned for containing offensive or controversial themes. Banning books suppresses information that should be an optional resource, and exercising discretion when reading literature is a reasonable alternative to shutting it out.
When a book is banned, it’s often for one of two things: either because of dated content that is now considered offensive, or for addressing issues in a way that brings awareness.
The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, written 1932-1943, is a great example of insensitivity. The books contain many dated terms in describing Native Americans, and it was voted to be removed by a division of the American Library Association.
However, a better option than removing the series would be learning to civilly converse about this problem, as opposed to shutting it out. Literature is a great opportunity for exposure to important issues, despite any original intentions of the author. We can still enjoy the Little House series, but accompany it with questions, such as: How might Wilder feel different if she were alive in today’s society? I’ve experienced firsthand the valuable conversations that literature can evoke, both in educational and personal settings when discernment is practiced.
The cost of raising awareness
The second, a more general dealing with issues, does not come from a place of ignorance, but in raising awareness. It acknowledges problems from a different moral standpoint. Books like Lord of the Flies were banned in several places for graphic depictions of violence, but the author William Golding certainly wasn’t promoting it.
Golding said, “The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable.”
As journalist Regan McMahon of Common Sense Media says, “Exploring complex topics like violence, substance abuse, suicide, and racism through well-drawn characters lets kids contemplate morality and vast aspects of the human condition, building empathy for people unlike themselves.”
Tough topics encourage people in learning how to think through issues relevant to their own lives, and deciphering right from wrong. Reasoning and toleration skills are key components in how we relate with each other, both locally and on a global scale.
Discretion and age-appropriate books
Still, the elephant in the room remains — surely, haven’t some books crossed the line? There are books regarded by most as alarmingly explicit, and the issue is mostly with children accessing these books. We shouldn’t diminish the power of words. It is true, some books shouldn’t generally be available to particular age groups, because they weren’t intended to be. Most banning happens by reading level — elementary school libraries aren’t banning 50 Shades of Grey, because logically they wouldn’t offer it in the first place. Instead, they’re banning Captain Underpants, and Where’s Waldo?. In most cases, there are also guardians and educators to aid in book recommendations. While some kids may get ahold of age-inappropriate literature, these systems tend to eliminate the majority of encounters anyway. The idea that “no books should be banned” does not correlate in any way to “all age-appropriate recommendations should be dropped.” Words surely are powerful, and discretion is key.
In the end, no book will perfectly align with everyone’s thoughts — but how could that ever be possible? Each author is unique, and their work is a reflection of their individuality. This is why reading is simply a resource, whether an individual chooses to read or not.
Ideas being restricted are inevitable issues everyone will come across, down to the last Cook County resident, and more likely sooner than later. Knowing how to respectfully handle and discuss these topics, both in literature and daily life, will always be a greater tool than ignorance.