Banned Books: Our Public School System Today

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Censorship in public schools is nothing new. For decades, the public school system has upheld strict guidelines for ‘appropriate’ instructional materials and topics. 

However, due to the ever-changing political climate in the United States, students and teachers alike call upon their politicians to challenge censorship regulations in the public school system. 

More recently, a Tennessee public school board voted to ban graphic novel “Maus,” a story about the Holocaust, due to “inappropriate content” that includes curse words and nudity. Written by Art Spiegelman, “Maus” uses cartoon imagery to educate others on the gruesome reality of the Nazi concentration camps. 

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The novel shows hangings, mass murder and abuse towards groups targeted by Nazis. The Tennessee public school board questioned the necessity of the included nudity and offensive language, citing that “we [the school board] don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff.” 

However, this is a crucial aspect of history that should not be removed from class instruction. 

This is disturbing imagery,” Spiegelman said to the New York Times. “But you know what? It’s disturbing history.”

To keep our readers in the loop, VALLEY has put together a list of so-called ‘controversial’ novels that have been challenged by public school officials. This list has been compiled with assistance from the American Library Association Challenged Books List, which was last updated in 2020.

1. “George” (Renamed “Melissa’s Story” In 2021) by Alex Gino

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“Melissa’s Story” is a coming-of-age novel that highlights the struggles of LGBTQIA+ youth. The protagonist, Melissa, is a transgender young girl who wants her family and peers to see her for her true identity. 

For years, the novel has been among one of the most challenged books on American Library’s Association list. Sexual references, untraditional family structures and gender conflict are among the reasons for its controversy.

2. “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds

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“Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” is a compelling novel that explores the grounds of racism in America through an “unwatered lens,” according to this article by NPR

Due to the novel’s perception of “selective storytelling incidents,” school officials have debated this book’s presence in public school libraries. However, author Ibram X. Kendi told NPR that readers have told him that the novel “opened their eyes to a new way of looking at history.”

3. “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

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Considered a literary classic, “To Kill A Mockingbird” highlights the racial inequalities in America during the 1930s. The novel is a Pulitzer Prize winner, but has received major backlash from parents and public school officials. 

“To Kill A Mockingbird” includes offensive language such as racial slurs, which can cause “negative effects on students,” according to the American Library Association’s list.

4. “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

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“The Hate U Give” tells the story of police brutality in America. The protagonist, Starr Carter, witnessed her childhood best friend’s murder at the hands of a white police officer. 

The novel’s “anti-police message” has resulted in the removal from public school libraries. In 2020, a South Carolina police union said that the book is “almost an indoctrination of distrust of police,” and proposed the book be taken off summer reading lists, according to ESSENCE.

5. “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson

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“Speak” is a novel centered around the protagonist Melinda’s recovery following a sexual assault at a high school party. Themes such as rape, profanity and bias towards the male population have created controversy for placing it on shelves in public schools. 

Tweet us, @VALLEYmag, with your opinion on the banning of these books.


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