“The Famous Jett Jackson” was one of my favorite TV shows when I was little. Not just because Lee Thompson Young (Rest in Peace wherever he may be) was one of the first young Black stars I saw that led their own show, but also because the show, like most 90s era shows, dealt with real issues. In the episode “Saving Mr. Dupree”, for example, English teacher Mr. Dupree was fired and arrested for giving his class access to real life banned book Fahrenheit 451. Kayla, one of Jett’s best friends, leads a demonstration against Mr. Dupree’s arrest and even Jett, whose father is the sheriff, risks arrest to defend the unfair banning of a book (ironically the book itself is about the banning of books). It’s interesting to see how even today people are dedicated to banning books with the idea of "protecting the children".
Banned Books Week this year is September 27 to October 3. The week is not necessarily a celebration of the banned titles as much as it is a declaration of the freedom to read what we choose. Most of the titles banned or challenged have been such because “higher ups” believe that the precious delicate children exposed to them should not have to face the reality of…well, reality. It’s funny to hear people advocate for banning books, but turn around and get upset when generations after them don’t have real world survival knowledge when they get older. Seven of the top ten banned books from last year are such because of sexually explicit content, but yet people’s go to answer when pregnancy and STDs come up is “You should’ve known better!” The idea of banning books because we don’t want to have these conversations with people, especially children, is one I can never understand.
In case you haven’t noticed; all of my posts this month have been pretty self-absorbed. It’s my birthday month; I claim the right to do that. This post is no different; the idea of keeping information from young audiences to “keep them in a child’s place” or “because they don’t need to know that” is a cornerstone of my research interests. I believe that exposing children early on to the “hard lessons” of life and to "controversial" topics is an important part of their development. Too often do we forget that children are people too, and that they deal with issues and have feelings just like the rest of us. Unlike the rest of us, however, who have life experiences and other methods of learning about and dealing with situations, all kids have is the media they ingest. That’s why I miss old school TV and love video games that deal(t) with real issues. The movement to shelter children is somewhat understandable, but still very dangerous to a child's development. The world is a big, bad and sometimes scary place, and to pretend that it isn't doesn't do anything but create bigger problems by sheltering kids (and adults) from reality.
This is something that my students are learning the hard way this semester. This semester I’m teaching three classes on research that I have themed around issues in young adult literature. In the first part of the class I had my students read works that featured youth (folk 18 and younger) as the protagonist(s) as they navigated their issues. We discussed everything from state testing, to bullying, to molestation to (mis)representation of different people. Some students were off put by what we talked about, but I strongly reminded them that these are all real issues, and if it makes them uncomfortable to talk about them imagine how it feels to actually deal with them. I had to force my students to confront that some children are abused physically, emotionally and sexually by people they love and that the world doesn’t give equal representation to different ethnicities, sexualities, levels of ability and gender, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Starting the conversation earlier about issues that are “taboo” can make it easier to discuss and analyze them in older ages, which begs the question: why are we keeping kids from doing this by banning books?
We shouldn’t be. Banning books is banning knowledge; and no one wants that. We cannot afford in today’s climate for children to be ignorant of the world, not with all the willful ignorance being spat around. That is why children like Amandla Stenburg are so precious; youth that are not afraid to address the world and know of its evils are a dime a dozen, and I can guarantee you that she got there by reading and being exposed to some of the same topics that others feel should be banned. We owe it to the next generation to provide them with the knowledge to navigate this world and find themselves, and if that knowledge or identity is banned they will be just as lost as we are. So go pick up a banned book this week; you never know what gem you may be missing out on.
What banned books have you read? How do you feel about sheltering kids from the world? Be sure to leave your questions, comments, and concerns below and don't forget to like, subscribe and share!