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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Banning books hinders discourse in our communities

    Book banning, like any form of censorship, is about removing and suppressing ideas because someone does not agree with them. When a book is banned, often because of arguments of taste or “readiness” for the readers, it hinders learning and the ability to develop a meaningful discourse.

    Today, books are still being challenged on grounds of “obscenity,” removed from classrooms and libraries, and then either banned or returned to the institution. In Arizona, two cases have come up in as many months.

    In September, Buena High School in Sierra Vista removed “Dreaming in Cuban” from classrooms for about a month after a parent challenged eight lines of text as “pornographic.” The school ultimately decided it was acceptable and returned it to the curriculum, but the damage was still done.

    In October, seven books that had been removed from the Tucson Unified School District in 2011 with the dismantlement of Mexican American studies were re-introduced for use in English and history classes.

    In both of these cases, things turned out well. I applaud the districts for ultimately restoring the books that were questioned.

    Yet, the books being removed in the first place, the one at Buena after a complaint from a parent and the ones in Tucson because of an Arizona House Bill, is concerning.

    These two instances are part of a much larger trend. The Office for Intellectual Freedom, a branch of the American Library Association, received 5,099 reports of books being challenged from 2000 to 2009. Breaking that down, one or two books gets challenged every day in the U.S.

    A challenge is the first step towards banning and is the initial act of censorship. Someone finds a book or content in a book objectionable to their personal sensibilities, and instead of just saying it is not for them and moving on, they ask an authority to get rid of it so no one else can be exposed to it.

    Often, this leads to books going through a review process, where more people get to decide whether or not they find a book objectionable to their sensibilities. If they do, then it can be banned.

    Even a temporary removal of a book prevents access to a flow of ideas.

    Bob Diaz, an associate librarian at the UA, noted the central concern of those against censorship.
    “When a book is ‘banned’ the ideas contained within it are kept off limits by people who would want to limit others’ exposure to those ideas,” he said.

    Being exposed to a variety of diverse ideas is important. Not everyone has the same views on sex and “offensive language” and “violence” and “homosexuality” and religion and family, which are the reasons most cited for challenging a book according to the ALA.

    Cindy Elliot, assistant librarian in the research services team and co-organizer of the UA’s Banned Books Week events, which were last held in 2012, explained why reading books that are challenging can be beneficial.

    “Sometimes the best kinds of learning can be from reading and thinking and talking about materials you disagree with,” she said. “And sometimes a change of perspective can come about from talking about materials that you thought you agreed with, and then changed your mind once you learned more about it, and talked with others about what they thought about it.”

    Books should not be challenged for their material, but appreciated for being challenging. They create discussions and improve our discourse by making people think and take positions on controversial topics.

    When we elect officials or let individuals have unbalanced power to dictate what ideas we are exposed to, it changes the discussions and limits what we think and know. Making sure books do not get banned is an easy way to encourage these discourses in our communities, our schools, our hometowns and everywhere else.

    David W. Mariotte is a journalism sophomore. Follow him @dw_davidwallace.

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