A banned books display at Barnes and Noble in West Hartford Grace Sanko photo

I am an English major graduating from Trinity College. I was inspired to pursue a literary degree after I was exposed to traditionally banned books in high school.

I was always curious why schools, parents, and governments try to censor what types of media students consume, and I was drawn to study literature after realizing the vast array of influential novels that I would never get to study with a class.

The book that particularly grabbed my interest was Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – an American classic that is continuously banned in more and more schools nationwide. While I can understand why its use of offensive language and racial tropes make it a terrible representation of Black Americans, I do not think that students should not be able to access this book. 

The matter is currently being discussed at Westport public schools where a ‘banned book’ display drew outrage in the fall of 2022 because parents claimed to want to ‘protect their children’ from the topics, concepts, or content of these books. However, such criticism from parents is effectively counteracting progressive efforts to diversify curriculums. 

Grace Sanko

With this being said, it is interesting to consider what books are routinely taught in schools across the country and what lessons they are meant to teach our youth about how to interact with the world. The freedom to read is an essential American right and therefore all books should be accessible to those who wish to further educate themselves on literary history. 

One of my favorite things about studying literature is the value of group discussion: everybody gets the opportunity to share their interpretations of what they read and extrapolate meaning from other people’s interpretations of the same book. I can learn so much more from a book when I am exposed to other people’s perspectives and insights about its meaning.

Some parents argue that its offensive nature makes it inappropriate for the classroom, but I maintain that literature is a powerful tool for students to gain exposure to different lifestyles and perspectives so they can develop their own moral viewpoints and opinions. If preventing kids from exposure to sensitive topics is supposed to ‘help’  them or discourage their pursuit of ‘bad habits,’ can these books be incorporated in a way that better informs students of these issues rather than hiding them altogether?

I believe that books are not inherently bad, it is the way that they are taught that can highlight a potentially offensive or negative reading.

In a recent report by EveryLibrary Institute, they discovered that “Half of voters believe there is ‘absolutely no time when a book should be banned’, 41% think ‘there are rare times when it’s appropriate to ban books’, and just 8% think ‘there are many books that are inappropriate and should be banned’.”

As the research shows, voters’ attitudes towards book banning in K-12 schools suggest that the majority of the public is opposed to book censorship.

The concept of book banning in and of itself is an exclusionary practice that restricts cross-cultural learning and prevents younger generations from learning about the world outside of their known culture. Furthermore, there are questions of whether book banning violates the First Amendment right to free speech. Is it lawful to restrict books in a public school?

While all these books do not need to be studied in a class setting to understand their meanings, they contain valuable lessons that are proven to shape individuals. Additionally, by diversifying the narrative of books that are available to students, there would be greater interest and engagement in reading if readers can identify with or relate to the stories that they are studying. English curriculum must deviate from the ‘classics’ to incorporate more voices into the conversation of how we understand and interpret our history and present.

To parents wishing to censor what their children consume: our youth have the right to access and receive information and ideas that challenge their own. And, there is a greater risk of children losing interest in reading due to the rise of internet consumption – not to mention it is healthier for children to learn lessons about issues like intersections of class and race through reading about them than to experience them alone. 

Banned books are essential to social progress. We cannot grow from the mistakes of our nation’s past without critically studying and analyzing its shortcomings. Access to a wide variety of literature is essential to creating critical thinkers in today’s day and age.

Grace Sanko is a recent graduate from Trinity College with a degree in English.