I have a huge confession to make:
I self-censor books that I read. And I didn’t even know it.
I know what you’re all thinking. How did I not realize this? The answer to that question is simpler than you may think. I have always been a reader, but I have always read books that fall squarely into my comfort zone, which includes fantasy, romance, dystopian (shout out to The Hunger Games and Divergent series), etc., but I haven’t really branched out past that. I used to think that that was okay.
However, after our class readings this week, I can see what a huge issue this is. Self-censorship itself is a massive issue. I hadn’t ever really considered the issue of banned and challenged books. Whenever I would walk into the library, I would simply look over the books and pick one that piqued my interest (and probably fell into my comfort zone). I’d never thought about the actual buying of books or the backlash that can be felt by librarians and administrators over this. The crazy truth is that this is a very real thing that happens all around us. Books are being censored due to their content and are being pulled off of shelves. Librarians are choosing to not purchase certain books due to their content that could upset parents. They are also choosing to not purchase these books in fear of losing their job. Librarians should not have to worry about this, especially when they are simply protecting the reading rights of their students. According to the article About Banned & Challenged Books, “censorship by librarians of constitutionally protected speech, whether for protection or for any other reason, violates the First Amendment.” Librarians should not have to worry about losing their jobs for buying books that could enrich their students’ lives; shouldn’t our librarians and teachers be applauded for trying to protect our students’ rights to what they read?
The answer to that question is yes. Novels with particular ideas might make adults squirm or feel uncomfortable. In fact, they might make me, a teacher-to-be, feel uncomfortable; but does that give us the right to take away those opportunities from students? Should we be able to decide what is good for them and what isn’t? No, I don’t think that we should. We must protect the reading rights of all of our students and stand together to not allow books with certain themes to vanish from our shelves. Perhaps these books can help our students grow and learn more. Maybe they don’t serve a purpose to one person, but can have a lasting impact on another. Parents that challenge novels for their content must realize that students have needs that are sometimes only met within the pages of a novel that covers difficult issues. We simply can’t let these types of books disappear.
You won’t ever make a difference if you don’t step out of the box… We can make a difference to children. Who knows? That very book that you thought was inappropriate may be the one that turns a child in the direction that he needs to be going or that gives a child quiet hope about a situation.
Recently, I read the book Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. This novel is an LGBTQ novel that is centered around the relationships of several young boys. I will admit that this novel was not one that I would traditionally pick up to read, but I decided to read it in order to diversify my reading. What happened, though, was magical. I learned SO much from my reading. Getting different perspectives and really placing yourself outside of your comfort zone can honestly make a world of difference. Although I will always have my favorite types of books to read, I understand that I must read numerous different things in order to truly help my future students. Just because I might not necessarily have all of the same interests that the students do, that doesn’t mean that they can’t read them. They might need to read them. These types of novels might just be the ones that they’re craving to read.
So, when it comes to my own personal self-censorship, I am trying to branch out. I believe that when we self-censor ourselves, we are losing out on some amazing stories and chances for personal growth. I’m sure that I might not always like everything I read, but that shouldn’t stop me from reading new and different things. I understand that my future students will be walking a completely different path than I did while growing up, and I want to be able to understand some of that. I want to fill my shelves with a collection of different types of literature. I want to be able to guide them towards books that are in their comfort zones (and some that are not). In order to do this, I must read many other books. Books that might not fit squarely into my comfort zone.
And you know what? That’s okay.