It’s Banned Books Week! Every year, I think about doing something with banned books in class, but I never make it work. Usually, September is a month of holiday interruptions – in NYC, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur shorten our first few weeks – so by the time we make it September 22nd, I’m afraid of derailing the momentum we’ve begun to build with a diversion into censorship. And of course, every year I think, “Oh, right, so next year we’ll incorporate censorship into the first unit!” But that’s September me who thinks that. June me thinks, “Ow. My brain.”
So, here we are in Banned Books Week, and I’ve got nothing planned to tackle the issue. But I think I might have to this year, even if we don’t get to it until next week. Two reasons: Dreaming in Cuban and Eleanor & Park. These two novels have recently been challenged as profane and pornographic, and it’s surprising to me. Not that parents would object to sex or swearing in books that children read, but that we’re still responding to these objections with attempts to ban books. I think censorship is, in essence, an effort to silence dissent. If you look at a list of the most challenged books in the United States, you’re looking at a list of books that have tried to, often successfully, change the way we look at issues in society. Check out bannedbooksweek.org’s page, Banned Books That Shaped America. Change like that comes from shifting perspective, endeavoring to see in ways that we cannot, have never before. And isn’t that learning? That flexibility, the empathy we develop when we step into others’ shoes, the ability to understand how one’s actions affect others, these are all traits we value in coworkers, employers, leaders, and members of our communities. So maybe instead of censoring books that alarm, frighten, or challenge us, we should be teaching them.