We’re in the midst of Banned Books Week, a national celebration of the right to read. Created in 1982, Banned Books Week aims to raise awareness about challenges to the inclusion of books in libraries, bookstores, and school curricula across the country.
The ACLU, from its landmark 1933 defense of James Joyce’s Ulysses, has long been involved in the fight against the censorship of books. Unfortunately, challenges to free expression are hardly a problem of the past.
In 2008, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom reported that there were 513 challenges to books. School districts, in particular, continue to restrict students’ access to books based on content and viewpoint—usually because of perceived profanity or offensive depictions of race, gender, and, often, even national identity. In 2006, for example, the Miami-Dade County School Board voted to pull copies of Alta Schreier’s Vamos a Cuba because of parents’ complaints about the author’s representation of life in that country. This year, in North Stafford, Virginia, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States was challenged as “un-American, leftist propaganda.” Recently, students in an Advanced Placement English class at Eastern High School in Louisville, Kentucky were instructed by their teacher not to read the last 30 pages of Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
What do students lose out on by not reading those final pages?
This week provides an opportunity for us to reflect on that question, as well as on the importance of safeguarding the right to free expression. While it is important that authors write freely, it is just as important that readers read freely.
For more information on how you can get involved in Banned Books Week and for a listing of events in your area, visit: http://www.bannedbooksweek.org.