While walking through the library, a student notices a bookshelf covered in caution tape and books hidden in manila folders. The student stops and picks up a folder. As he opens it, he see the book, “Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky. He immediately recognizes this book and stops to wonder why it is in this particular bookshelf. After a while he realizes that, it is Banned Books Week at Palo Alto High School. Banned Books Week is an annual national event that runs during the last week of September.
This year, the event took place from Sept. 21-27. During this week, schools, libraries and bookstores fight against censorship and instead celebrate their freedom to read. Banned Books Week was first launched in 1982 in response to an increase of attempts to remove a number of books from schools and libraries.
Books are banned from schools by parents with the intention to protect students from unpopular, unorthodox or difficult ideas and information put out by authors. A couple examples of why books may be banned are because of their “inappropriate” sexual content or offensive language as judged by parents. However, one should note there is a difference between a book that is banned and a book that is only challenged.
A challenged book is an attempt to remove the material based on objections from any number of people. Meanwhile, a banned book is one which has been actually removed from a school’s curriculum or library. What impact does this have on students? According to Paly librarian Rachel Kellerman, banning a book limits students’ capacity to learn.
“When books are challenged or banned these ideas from different points of view are not part of the curriculum and a students’ educational opportunities diminish,” Kellerman said. “We live in a global society, so it is to everyone’s advantage to have all kinds of books available to all kinds of students not just in schools in Palo Alto but in Texas, and Illinois, and Florida too… everywhere really.”
In Palo Alto, students might wonder, why Banned Books Week exists? Banned Books Week is all about celebrating the freedom to read. It is an opportunity in which students can take advantage of the literary opportunities they have.
“I like to call it Celebrate Your Freedom to Read week rather than Banned Books Week because that is what the week is really all about: making sure students have access to a wide range of ideas from a range of points of view,” Kellerman said.
Maybe you have or have not realized, but Paly is filled with banned books. You might have even read some of the books that have been challenged or even banned in your English class. Some of these books have been banned and are no longer used in study or are no longer available in other schools for various reasons, but they are still available to the students at Paly.
“Everything we collect in the library has value to the academic and social and or emotional life of high school students and staff even though the ideas contained in the materials may be about difficult subjects or situations such as war “Slaughterhouse 5”, death “The Diary of Anne Frank”, alcoholism “The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian”, abuse “Speak”, injustice “To Kill a Mockingbird”, etc.,” Kellerman said.
Junior Kate Abed believes that the freedom to read is crucial despite the content, and people should be able to express their thoughts freely due to the right of freedom of speech provided by the Bill of Rights.
“I think it’s important to shed light on the controversy over banned books,” Abed said. “I also think it’s important to have freedom to read what you choose, regardless of what the text on the page says because writing is a form of free speech and it’s important to voice your own opinions.”
Banned Books Week is very significant at Paly, because students have the opportunity to read many books that students at other schools might not have the chance to read due to censorship.
“Ideas are considered speech and protected in this country by the 1st Amendment of our Constitution no matter where someone goes to school,” said Kellerman. “This is important because schools and curriculum in the USA are largely dictated by states and locally elected school boards. So, Paly may have a book that a school in another state/school district does not have.”
It may be a surprise to find out that there are even a few best-selling authors on the banned books list. For example, Dav Pilkey, author of the “Captain Underpants” series, has been on the most frequently challenged books list of the 21st century. According to challengers, the book has offensive language, is unsuited for age group and contains violence.
Next time, celebrate Banned Books Week by picking up a banned book and reading it. Take advantage of the opportunities that come with the freedom to read.