“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free,” so said social reformer Frederick Douglass in 1845.
But are we truly free to read? Some say “no!” Many politicians and parents are making choices about which books children are – and are not – going to read. Hard to imagine but a politician in Texas compiled a list of 850 books on American history, racism, and sexuality as being “inappropriate” for education purposes. Apparently, some think that politicians, not educators, should control what children should read.
No doubt, there are moral and age-appropriate boundaries that factor into what children and young adults read. However, certain books are being challenged and even banned from libraries that need not be. For many of us, we believe books serve a useful purpose in several meaningful ways, such as:
- Stimulating curiosity and critical thinking
- Enabling an objective and accurate view of historic events
- Promoting a more inclusive and diverse society
We ask ourselves, why not provide a range of viewpoints to help young adults develop, find meaning, and be enlightened in learning new knowledge? While parents may not always agree with certain viewpoints, this becomes an opportunity for them to talk, listen, and explain to their children outside the classroom.
One of the most banned books is “The Harry Potter Series” by J.K. Rowling. While these stories have given joy to millions of children, some parents fear how “witchcraft” gets portrayed. Another banned book that reflects on America’s past is Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Rather than use this book to call out the insensitive racist tone of the 19th century, by ignoring it, students are denied a key learning objective.
The same can be said for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, “The 1619 Project” by Dr. Nikole Hannah-Jones. We now better understand the consequences of slavery and social inequity over the past 400 years from an African American perspective. Again, rather than learn from the past, many prefer to pretend otherwise. Consequently, racial tensions continue to affect the lives of millions of people. History often repeats itself if left unchecked.
As an educator, I know how curious students can be when trying to make sense of current and past events. Without the right perspective, how does one explain why people protest, why bad things happen, and how politicians act – or not – in response to public need? One answer lies in what we read, how we think, and what compels us to be better human beings.
Sir Richard Steele once said, “reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” If that’s true, then let’s not regress to book banning, or worse yet, book burning. Instead, young AND mature adults require that mental exercises to become more well-rounded in thought. For the younger ones, give them a wide range of books to expand their horizons. Let them enjoy the exploits of Harry Potter and Huckleberry Finn, among others.
Through uncensored reading and reflection, let everyone understand different perspectives; be more empathetic to what others experience; and be more inclusive of people who look, think, and act differently than their ancestors.
In closing, Opray Winfrey said it best:
What I love most about reading: It gives you the ability to reach higher ground. And keep climbing.
So, let’s give our young readers an opportunity to do just that … read, learn, and experience a meaningful ascent. Let’s unleash their curiosity, creativity, and acceptance of a more inclusive and diverse society by what gets read and reflected upon.