ART BY KAYTE CHIEN
By HENRY HSIA
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece are not a reflection of the views of Paw Prints Weekly as a whole. They are the sole views of the author. Paw Prints Weekly celebrates a diverse audience and staff, and it supports the declaration of the duties and rights of a Journalist per the U.S. Constitution.
When we think of classic literature, books such as: To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn come to mind. Yet, many modern teenagers have not read such novels, not because of laziness, but rather because academic mediums bar these classics to protect them from “explicit” or inappropriate material.
However, banning books in school is detrimental to student development. By censoring these books, students miss the essential themes and lessons these books have carried through the years.
Firstly, the majority of books in America are banned for arbitrary reasons. The Catcher in the Rye, for example, has been frequently challenged in schools. Proponents for banning the book have stated reasons ranging from using explicit language, encouraging teenage rebellion, all the way to supporting communism and increasing suicide rates. While the latter two reasons are ridiculous and unfounded claims, The Catcher in the Rye does contain explicit language and shines a perspective on teenage rebellion.
Rebellious themes are a keystone of young adult literature, afterall, it is a part of the teenage growth process. Just like how children are curious about their surroundings, teenagers commonly face a phase of rebellion. Novels such as The Catcher in the Rye explore the complex emotions of a teenager during this state of non-conformity and confusion. “Rebellious” novels benefit young readers by properly analyzing these emotions and suggesting ways to deal with them in a healthy manner. Nonetheless, school districts like to attribute troubled teenage behavior, such as vandalizing school property and skipping school, to rebellious themes in novels, so mentioning this rebellious streak is viewed as harmful. Ironically, by banning a book about teenage rebellion, it only encourages teenagers to rebel and read the book.
This brings me to my second topic: the explicit language in banned books. For example, throughout The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield consistently spews out obscenities. While foul language certainly does not belong in a classroom environment, the swear words used in this instance are merely expressions of frustration. This is a common practice in many novels, and censoring these expressions lessen the impact of the story.
Not only are swear words common in novels, but they are also everywhere in the real world. Swear words are only considered so obscene by our society because we give them that power by banning their mere utterance. We put these words on a pedestal, where they can not be touched for fear of societal repercussions. So when a person reaches up to the pedestal and uses one of these words, the word is seen as malicious and derogatory by the rest of society.
Taking this concept one step further, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has always been the subject of debate for its inclusion of possibly the most notorious and powerful slur in the English language (it starts with an N). Many racial slurs, regardless of the language, have a deep-rooted history behind them, and the N-word is no different. The word is never uttered because of the history of racism and the suffering of those labeled by it. I am not arguing for this word to become accepted in schools, or anywhere else for that matter. But banning a book simply for containing this slur detracts from an important step in a child’s development—separating right from wrong.
Students would not be able to gauge the power these swear words carry without being exposed to it. It is better for the word to be carefully dissuaded against in a classroom environment, than for a child to pick up the word from a random foul-mouthed adult. If we simply ban all mention of the word, then the context behind the word and why we should not use it in the first place is lost. The word simply becomes a powerful tool to upset adults; the child never understands why the word should never be said.
Additionally, by banning The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, educators miss the powerful message behind the book. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn tell a compelling story of morality, and how to weigh our moral decisions. The book was also a commentary on slavery during its time, displaying the cruelty of the practice. These are important lessons that are still relevant in today’s society.
In conclusion, the censorship of classic literature should not be taken lightly. There is a reason why these works have survived for decades or even centuries, and banning them for arbitrary reasons would simply deprive children of valuable life lessons.