Banned Books Closing Forever

Students and teachers discuss the effects of literary censorship

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Photo by Avery Myers

On a display in the library, many previously banned books are set out for any students to see. The collection was created by Stephenson in honor of Banned Book week. “People have a lot of questions about it, so really that’s the big thing that we’re doing,” Stephenson said. “It’s just fielding conversations about what’s been banned in the past, why they’ve been banned, and talking about why we want to try to protect books even if we don’t necessarily agree with their contents.”

When we ban a book, we run the risk of telling somebody that their belief or their moral is wrong, which is not really in my opinion the responsibility of a librarian or the school district to tell people what their morals should or should not be.”

— Collin Stephenson

With the number of banned and challenged books steadily growing each year, Banned Books Week was met this September by many determined teachers, librarians, and students. After taking time to honor the legacy and impact of banned books, certain students like Shayla Wulf (12) were left wondering about the state of the library.

“I think that Mr. Stephenson does a good job of trying to accommodate our needs because he is very anti-censorship,” Wulf said. “But I do feel like with the books that are on the board right now it could be a thing for future Heritage or just MISD students.”

Librarian Collin Stephenson, explained the process he uses in order to ensure that every book offered meets the needs of the students.

“Here, at our school district, we actually have a really fantastic set of guidelines that give everybody a voice with what happens with the books that we have available,” Stephenson said. “We’ve continued to sort of use the process that we have and our guidelines to make sure that we keep high quality books and that we give everybody the access that we need with understanding to all the different kinds of people that we have here.”

Despite this, many schools across Texas and the country continue to ban and challenge books which, according to Isabelle Swank (12), can create some harmful repercussions.

“So much of our learning comes from books,” Swank said. “There’s books about everything. You can discover your personal interests at school and if that’s banned then so many kids don’t have that outlet anymore.”

Surprisingly, the process one uses to ban or challenge books is not as strenuous as one might think. 

“It could be anything from a moral reason, to a personal reason, to an academic reason,” Stephenson said. “If it is removed and students are no longer given access to it or people aren’t given access to it, it’s considered banned.”

Additionally, the banning of one book can cause a domino effect into other books that hold similar topics of themes that were used for the reasoning of banning the first book.

“If they banned one thing for violence and these 50 other books that maybe just had a smidget of that or something that could fall into that, you also have to get banned with that book,” Swank said. “So even if you’re just going to ban one book under these pretenses, you then have to look at all the other ones which is getting rid of so much literature.”

AP English teacher Andrew Coomes relates how books in his classroom would be considered banned and therefore unteachable.

“Anything that is not on the approved list [of books to teach] has to go through a process,” Coomes said. “I know that earlier this year, across the district, there were several books that were not permitted whenever teachers asked permission to teach them at various grade levels. I personally haven’t had that issue. I haven’t had any sort of pushback whenever I requested to teach something.”

Books that have not been approved in the past range from many authors, genres, and time periods. Many of the titles have become more popular due to being censored.

“If you look at the list of the most banned books of all time, you’re going to see a lot of things that have typically been used in classrooms like ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ ‘The Alchemist,’” Stephenson said. “All of those books have had numerous challenges for classroom instruction which means you are denying a resource that might show up on AP tests or a resource students might reference if they go to college and choose to study English.”

The damage to education that banned or unapproved books cause, according to Coomes, is dependant on the teacher’s ability to adapt to those “roadblocks.”

“It’s not going to inhibit my teaching because you can look at the back of my classroom and see I’ve got 800 books here,” Coomes said. “If I can’t teach one, I’ll be able to find the skills that I want to cover in another book, but I’m choosing a particular book for a reason and having someone take that option away from me is just adding an unnecessary roadblock in the way. We should be treated as the professionals that we are to make that call.”

From a student perspective, Grace Nguyen (12) argues that the repercussions of book banning does have the ability to inhibit students from specific educational resources.

“It goes with the subject of what you’re going to ban and what books fall into that category,” Nguyen said. “If you ban ‘Tale of Two Cities’ for violence then you don’t have Dickens and you don’t have that understanding of more complex writing from back then.”

Themes of violence, offensive language, and explicit sex are common reasons that are cited when a book is banned, but Stephenson believes most bannings run deeper then those claims.

“A big thing that I typically point out to people is that a lot of book banning comes from a moral background,” Stephenson said. “People choose it for moral reasons; it doesn’t align with their beliefs, their values, or what they think should be taught.”

Because of this, the results of book banning have the potential to go beyond impacting the education of students. 

“Our different backgrounds and beliefs and morals sort of change what we think we should or shouldn’t read,” Stephenson said. “When we ban a book, we run the risk of telling somebody that their belief or their moral is wrong, which is not really in my opinion the responsibility of a librarian or the school district to tell people what their morals should or should not be.”

With Texas being the number one state with banned books in schools, Swank reflects on how her community might contribute to those bannings.

“I feel like part of it is just the town you live in and what their values are, but also the school board,” Swank said. “Sometimes I feel like there’s nothing you can do except elect people with the same viewpoints as you, which is not ideal for everyone, so I don’t know where that balance comes in.”

While there are no books the library classifies as banned at this moment, there is always the potential for future banned books. To prevent this, Wulf offers up a solution.

“I feel like I would probably protest and get the student body’s opinion because we definitely should have a voice, especially high schoolers, about what books we should be able to read,” Wulf said. “Some of us are even 18, and are you going to tell an 18-year-old they can’t read ‘1984.’ You can’t do that.”

Board meetings are open to the public, including any students who would like to speak up about any topics that are relevant to the agenda of the meeting.

“Board meetings are always a great idea,” Coomes said. “I think the more the board hears from students, the more it’s going to start to sink in that this is important to not just one student but multiple students.”

Even without attendance to board meetings, book banning can be prevented, according to Stephenson, through simple conversations.

“Most people don’t even realize when it’s happening right around them until it’s too late,” Stephenson said. “So, having conversations [about how] it could happen here and that we want to make sure that it doesn’t is informing people. We want to talk about it. We want to talk about why it’s okay that a public space has books that meet all kinds of different interest levels.”