Chapter Eighteen: Censorship
Words are a powerful thing. They create stories that can change lives. They reveal information that can alter perspectives. That's why we take them so seriously in our work here at Noteworthy Communications. Words, whether in a novel, essay, poem, film, or even in professional copy, have an impact.
This is not new information. People in power have always understood the potential that words can carry. That's why history is filled with instances of attempts to silence certain words, certain stories, certain truths, certain perspectives. We are living in one of those historical moments right now, with this year’s number of book challenges set to exceed last year’s, according to the American Library Association.
“The pen is mightier than the sword.”
- Edward Bulwer-Lytton
“Ideas are incombustible. And therein lies your real fear.”
- Ellen Hopkins
Now, we could dive into how the banners of books are never remembered as the heroes of history (quite the opposite, in fact), or why they feel the need to censor voices at all. Instead, we prefer to focus on how book banning efforts tend to have the opposite effect of their intended purpose.
Censorship always backfires. Censoring literature especially only succeeds in driving up readership and piquing curiosity about why someone is working so hard to keep this information hidden away. With the technology and the resources we have today, true book banning is next to impossible. Those who are determined to find the stories that speak to them will always find a way, and the internet, public libraries, non-profit organizations, and passionate individuals are ready to assist in this mission.
“There is more than one way to burn a book.
And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.”
- Ray Bradbury
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
- Nelson Mandela
A term often heralded in the fight to keep books on the shelves is “representation.” Representation is a two-sided coin. It is vital that readers, particularly young readers, see themselves in the stories they read, watch, and absorb. That’s how they know they are not alone, no matter what their own personal story may be. The flipside, however, is just as crucial. To seek out stories, particularly as adults, that show us perspectives beyond our own experiences makes us more informed and open-minded in a world full of people who are different from ourselves.
No matter how deeply some people may dig their heels in, we will never all conform to the same ideals and behaviors. That reality can seem frightening to those who are very comfortable in their own bubbles and who wish to remain there always. Education, however, is the antidote to fear. We do not necessarily have to agree, but we do ourselves a true disservice when we refuse to at least learn.
“Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it.”
- Mark Twain
“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
- Oscar Wilde
So often in the discourse of challenging books, we hear from parents determined to shield the children from material they personally find objectionable. Their compulsion to control the content in schools and libraries is expected to outweigh the training and expertise of those specifically hired to cultivate a collection of materials designed to educate students, expand their perspectives, arm them with information, and allow them to walk out into the world a more well-rounded citizen.
What these book banners want for their child is also expected to be good enough for their classmates as well, but to be public means something: the community as a whole, for everyone. The discomfort of some should not dictate the education of all. After all, ignorance is far from bliss for those who have to live with the consequences of the decision-making of the ignorant.
We expect students to handle school shootings, and even forced parenthood, yet we cannot trust them with the power of information? Words and stories of diverse perspectives have turned into a type of boogeyman, talking points designed to fuel an agenda of anger, division, and bigotry. The only way to break through the fear is to shine a light, because no one should have to read in the dark.
“Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance.”
- Laurie Halse Anderson
“Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.”
- Heinrich Heine
“Read the books they’re banning. That’s where the good stuff is.”
- LeVar Burton
For additional resources on this topic, including lists of banned books any of us would certainly benefit from reading, and ways you can help share stories of all kinds, check out the organizations below.