To select or censor that is the question, and why.

Book banning. The mere mention of the words automatically raise a red flag. Rightfully so. How, one may ask, does such a seemingly primitive and authoritarian action exist in the context of the modern world, especially in a country such as the United States. The United States of America, a country touted with the legal ability to address and redress violation of free speech. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Thus, the pursuit and continuation of free speech, as exemplified in literary expression, is thoroughly legal.

However, when it comes to teaching and analyzing mature material in a high school setting, where lies the grounds with which these books are deemed fit to teach? Is it appropriate for minors to be reading about explicitly erotic scenes with obscene and vulgar language for a letter grade? Should they be shunned if they or their parents object to such material for being ‘close-minded’ or ‘backwards’? Or are they entitled to their own opinion just like everybody else? They too are entitled to a say in the selection process. The brave minority has a voice, too.

When it comes to middle and high school age student reading lists, where lies the standard with which books are chosen to be taught and read? Are there national guidelines that set the stage in preparation of assistance to educational institutions and how the select what books students will be discussing inside the classroom? As far as I am concerned, this guideline does not exist. A pity too, considering with the help of a guideline, the debate about banning books might be addressed from the start of the problem: the origin. Why was a book selected in the first place and who selects such books? Oftentimes, literature is selected based on the standard of an individual teacher, school, state etc. causing the decision to toe the line between subjectivity and objectivity.

When students or parents object to school curriculum, they stand in complete reason. School curriculum is developed and mandated by human endeavor, therefore, it is only natural that that human endeavor challenge such developments if of a different mind. This rationale follows the First Amendment to a T. Challenge to free speech is not necessarily a restriction of such freedoms, rather it is a free voice acting in petition to a voice or idea in which it may oppose. It is exercising the very thing it rebukes. The fluidity of opinion, dialogue, and eruption of argument follow naturally from such a structure, and is thus encouraged by this amendment.


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Which comes to my point.

Books seen as lewd or inappropriate, despite popular acclaim or supposed contemporary significance, are not fit to be included in classroom curriculum especially when there are hundreds of other choices to choose from by renowned authors covering the same themes without the use of sexually explicit scenarios and graphic language. While institutions may want to propose a diverse selection to students that expands intellectual horizons, if such material fails to benefit the development of a student, then where is the purpose?

The American Library Association, ALA, self promotes as an organization spearheading advocacy for the protection of the right to read any and all books so as to open the minds of the youth in allowing them to explore any and all content available. Materials that are seen as sexually explicit, containing offensive language, or deemed inappropriate for certain ages are not seen as reason enough for banning books from shelves or removing selections from reading lists simply because the ALA promotes free access to anything and everything.

But I disagree. There should be a choice in the matter, but a choice in which to include as well as exclude. I do not advocate removing books from shelves in the slightest bit, but, maybe some works should be left on the shelves to be explored on the student’s own time. Regardless if books are chosen by a rigorous process laid out by school officials, that does not make them accurate choices for teaching material.

According to NPR and studies found in recent years by neuroscientists, the brain’s frontal lobe, or primary decision making hotspot, does not fully develop until mid 20’s and sometimes even longer. This being said, how are high schoolers the ages of 16, 17, and 18 determined as mature adults equipped with sound decision making skills? The material they watch, read, or have any interaction with at all undoubtably will have an effect on their minds, whether consciously or subconsciously.

How are teens supposed to act in a correct manner if they are learning the contrary in the classroom? Why is it seen as disrespectful to curse? Distribute and view porn? And yet, this material is acceptable in the classroom? According to the US Supreme Court decision found in Miller v. California (1973), three requirements must be met in order to define obscenity. The Miller Test States:

    The average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that such speech, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest (i.e. a morbid or degrading interest in sexual activity, as opposed to simply a curious interest).
    The speech depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law.
    The speech, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Regardless if students may see themselves as up to the challenge to tackle material of this kind, if the content fulfills these maxims, it is deemed as obscene. Or in other words, pornographic. And where is the educational value in that?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “censorship” as “the suppressing or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable or a threat to society.” This definition applies to free speech in general and not just books. Perhaps the parents and students who oppose certain material have a point that the ALA hasn’t taken into proper consideration. Difference of opinion should be welcomed and not shunned. Parents and students have a right to voice concerns in regards to content being taught and dialogue should be welcomed.

The works of William Shakespeare or even James Joyce technically contain erotic or possibly offensive material, but perhaps we should analyze the manner in which these authors convey such material and compare them to blatant description and language. Such blatancy is offensive to the reader, it lowers their intelligence level…

I do not advocate book banning, I advocate appropriate selection in the classroom. Free speech is not under attack, rather the right to one’s own opinion.


Bernadette Hogan

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Allan Dean

Allan Dean is editor, publisher, and founder of the Atlantic Highlands Herald. Published since 1999 and selected in 2000 by the Borough of Atlantic Highlands as one of their official newspapers, making...