North West community talks about recent increase in book bans


Artwork by Jordan Mangi

Government officials and school boards across the country have sought to ban certain books from being taught in schools.

In recent months, Texas State Rep. Matt Krause has put more than 800 books on a watchlist, an Oklahoma state senator has introduced a bill to possibly ban 51 Books in Schools and a Tennessee School Board Banned Pulitzer Prize-winning Holocast memoir, “Maus.

For more than a century, books have been the target of nationwide bans. However, pressure from some US officials to ban the books has recently increased, with award-winning titles like ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. end up on curriculum review lists.

Sociology professor Laura Nielsen said the bans are an attempt by government officials to weed out certain ideas and experiences. Nielsen said this includes the story of “whitewashing”, as many banned novels deal with issues of race, abortion and sexuality.

“It’s not at all surprising to me that people in power try to censor messages that humanize people who are members of traditionally disadvantaged groups,” Nielsen said.

At least 11 of the books on Kraus’ list focus on the landmark Roe v. Wade, and others include such titles as Leanne K. Currie-McGhee’s “LGBTQ Families” and “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot.” by Mikki Kendall.

Like Nielsen, Chris Davidson, librarian in charge of campus and community engagement, said he was frustrated when he heard the news. Books are a gateway to learning from the experiences of others, he said.

“It’s important for young people to see themselves and understand who they are,” Davidson said. “When we take those things away – and it’s usually the marginalized communities whose stories are taken from them – we make them feel like their stories shouldn’t be told.”

Northwest Libraries are among many national libraries that participate in the annual Banned Books Week in September. The week began in 1982 in response to a sudden increase in attempts to ban books from schools, libraries and bookstores.

Davidson said the University uses the week to educate people who are unfamiliar with the concept of book bans. NU Libraries have created displays of banned books to showcase the ideas people seek to suppress, he said.

Officials have cited profanity, nudity and violence as justification for these bans, arguing that such content makes these books unsuitable as teaching materials.

But Nielsen thinks that decision should rest in the hands of school educators, not government officials.

“No books should be banned, they should be curated to be age-appropriate,” Nielsen said. “Teachers who work with students and have taught these things for many years will likely be the best judges of what students can take in and contextualize.”

Weinberg’s first year, Maya Vuchic hails from New Jersey, a state where parents have advocated at school board meetings to ban certain books.

Vuchic said seeing individual representatives trying to ban books illustrates how the whims of government officials can negatively affect people’s rights.

“Two of the fundamental rights in a democracy are freedom of education and freedom of expression,” Vuchic said. “When we ban books, we threaten both rights.”

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Twitter: @ellajeffriess

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