Challenges to Perspective; Even Just Life

National book bannings are increasing and the impacts on those affected continue to become clear.


Eleanor J. Bader

A Pride-themed book display at the Northland Public Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

by Allie Lewis, Reporter

Across the nation, book bannings have been on the rise. As of July 2021, school districts in 26 US states have banned or began investigations into over 1,000 books. Currently, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Texas  lead the nation in bans; having about 87%  of the country’s total book bannings. 

Historically, book bannings have been around for a long time, first occurring in what is now the United States in the 1600s when the Puritans decided to ban Thomas Morton’s “New English Canaan”; a searing indictment of conservative Puritan life. Others point to Harriet Stowes Uncle Tom’s Cabin as the first nationally banned book for claims of inducing debates about slavery. 

Often, historically books were arguably banned for obscenity; sexual images, violence, etc. However, in today’s society, the reasons given for book bannings are controversial and often lead to arguments over First Amendment rights.

These recent book bannings follow the same route – but now, certain bans are the result of state legislation that bars schools from including diversity and equity topics, such as the study of racism and inequality and themes relating to sexuality and gender identity, promoting a new wave of censorship sweeping the nation’s schools targeting literature relating to race, LGBTQIA+ identity, and sex. 

The director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom said, “We’re seeing an unprecedented volume of challenges since last September, honing in on books that deal with the experiences of Black persons and LGBTQIA persons.”

These national book bannings have even made their way to our own community; typically known as a more liberal area. Currently our district has banned one book, Gilgamesh, and challenged eight others.

“We didn’t even have all of them here in our library. But at this point, we do, at least in an online form, like Gender Queer,” said Mr. Trunkey, the CKHS librarian and tech support. 

Gender Queer eBook by Maia Kobabe.

After only banning one book, for reasons unrelated to diversity or gender themes, the CKHS library has established that it will continue to supply these challenged books for the CKHS community to access. 

“At Olympic High School, people keep stealing the copies and destroying them,” said Mr. Trunkey. “So I figured that you can’t really do that with an electronic version,” showing clear support in providing opportunities to read these books.

Now, as a community that tends to sway more liberally, and although the rise of book bannings in this area is certainly not as large as those around the nation, it is still startling to see such challenges of books. 

The review board, composed of students, librarians, parents, and district administration, are in charge of reading and responding to book challenges; giving the final decision on its banning. They also have the duty of reviewing the challenge, checking for the correct requirements a challenge must meet in order to be considered. Recently, these challenge requests have been getting more and more subpar. 

“This is the first year in many we’ve had any challenges… and this is all orchestrated, the list of books matches the lists that you’ll see across the country,” said Mr. Trunkey. “You know, they’re [book challengers] using a playbook and picking the things that they think are gonna get a big rise out of people.”

The book challenges being seen in the CKHS community follows those seen nationally; all regarding LGBTQIA+, race, and diverse themes. However, after updates made to the ban request form, in order to make the requirements for challenging more clear, the challenges are dwindling.

“If they [book challengers] don’t choose to fill out the form with some fidelity, then the form gets rejected… a lot more responsibility being placed on those who want to challenge to take it as a serious process rather than just trying to make a big splash in the news, so that might, that might reduce the number,” said Mr. Trunkey. 

As the community’s book challenges begin to dwindle, the challenges, based on contentious subjects on a national scale, stem from societal issues and exclusive views. 

“I think a lot of it has to do with social media, and people being persuaded of things that are true and being supported in the idea that they can exclude people that they don’t understand or know,” said Mr. Trunkey.

As many challenges to society and the treatment of minority groups have risen across the nation, social media plays a large part in how people learn and develop their ideas and beliefs; a space that offers very little differing perspectives.

“I’ve noticed I’ve gotten a lot more aggressive since COVID-19, I think that, you know, after the lockdown, and people only had social media to turn to, it made people less understanding that there are different perspectives in the world, and I think the aggression got a lot worse,” says Mya Downing, sophomore and member of review board. 

These books that continue to get challenged and banned both nationally and within our own community play a major role in the community and the bannings create adverse effects on students and youth. By banning books, and thus challenging the themes depicted in representations of groups of people, it sets a precedent for those represented and also tends to deprive others of perspective.

“It’s a lot of real life stories, it’s a lot of educating about racism and sexism and homophobia that we’ve been seeing in our nation… the majority of those stories also represent marginalized communities like, you know, communities of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and women in general and it’s just unfortunate, unfortunate to see so many communities being misrepresented and once again, silenced through literature,” said Rosalie Johnson*, sophomore, and member of review board. 

By taking away these different perspectives within books, and hence the different perspectives of people within our own community, book bannings may be depriving students of valuable opportunities to learn and grow as people, to gain acceptance, and to have a better understanding of their peers. 

“The communities that are represented are affected because they no longer have that representation, their voices aren’t being heard,” Johnson says. “They no longer have the joy of knowing that someone who looks like them or is like them is in their libraries… even people that are not, you know, represented by those books, they lose that education. They lose that insight.”

Poster in a CKHS classroom. (Allie Lewis)

“And I feel like education and knowledge is more than valuable and more than important because it creates culture and it creates how people treat each other and with better understanding of who people are, and with better representation of knowledge… they will have, you know, a better view on the world and create a kinder, and a community that is focused on equity and healing and reparations and a creation of a new and better culture.” says Johnson.

Students whose libraries are banning these books that discuss minority groups and diverse themes may be losing out on key perspectives and experiences shared by the authors; authors who wished to put their experiences out for others to read, for others to learn from, and for students to have media they are able to relate to. 

“And personally, I think it’s disrespectful for someone like me who’s come from a good life to say that these books about personal experiences are inappropriate, because it’s like saying that people who have lived these kinds of lives that aren’t just fictional; their lives are inappropriate,” says Downing.

Future generations may also face the subsequent detrimental effects of these book bannings as they grow up without the ability to read and understand these perspectives. 

“For future generations this also has a major implication of losing what life is like now, losing what life has been like up to this point, and knowing what your past is is incredibly important,” Johnson says. “So you can look to the future and build a better culture based off of that.”

Students who might grow up without the opportunity to read these media will find it very hard  to build a better culture, Johnson mentions, one opposed to a hateful and discriminatory culture, because without being able to gain new insights, they will struggle to build a culture better than what they have, because they’ll only know their own.

“I think it can help them understand themselves better and can create safer communities for them and they can see safer opportunities… I also think without these kinds of books that talk about, you know, people of color, experiences and abuse and the struggle with drugs and stuff like that, kids grow up not understanding what is out there, what kinds of lives some people are actually living” says Downing. “So I think it definitely makes people more sheltered which can be harmful.”

So, as people nationwide continue to challenge and ban books from school libraries in a discriminatory fashion, we could soon face a society where students lose the opportunity to learn about different ways of life, and different perspectives of the very peers around them.

“I think just the main thing is just literature is inherently valuable, and challenges to them, for whatever reason, have a significant implication on communities as a whole, whether it’s a lack of representation or lack of an education opportunity,” says Johnson. “Literature’s literature and I think that it should always be accessible to anybody who would like to read it.”

*Rosalie Johnson is a reporter for the Cougar Chronicle.