Our Freedom To Read Essay, Research Paper
OUR FREEDOM TO READ
Many rights are guaranteed to us or implied within our constitutional tradition. The right to read is one of these, and like the other rights it can be used wisely or foolishly. To deny the freedom of choice in fear that it may be unwisely used is to destroy the freedom itself. Book censorship should not be allowed because the right to read freely enables many students to expand their imaginations and knowledge, freedom of inquiry is essential to education in a democracy and teachers are trained to teach controversial material to an age-appropriate audience.
American schools have been pressured to confine or deny students access to books considered inappropriate by some individual or group based on moral, political, religious, ethnic, or racial grounds for many years. Recently classics and modern novels have both been attacked and considered controversial or inappropriate for students to read. Most would-be book banners act with what they consider to be the highest motives –protecting themselves, their families and communities from perceived injustices and evil and preserving the values and ideals they would have the entire society embrace (Miner 21). The result, however, is always the denial of another’s right to read.
When given the freedom to read, the reader is not limited by birth, geographic location, or time, since reading allows meeting people, debating philosophies, and experiencing events beyond the narrow limitations of an individual’s own existence. Many modern novels for young adults are centered on issues in the “real world” of adolescents, a world of drugs, alcohol, divorce, gangs, premarital sex, violence, and racism; therefore they are deemed inappropriate for reading. Both students and parents have the right to demand that education keep students in touch with the reality of the world beyond the classroom doors. English teachers must be allowed to teach books, whether they are classic or modern, that honestly talk of the fears, hopes, frustrations, and joys that are experienced as a result of the present day culture.
“The community that entrusts students to the care of an English teacher should also trust that teacher to exercise professional judgment in selecting or recommending books” (Jenkins 8). With the help and instruction of a teacher, students can receive a better understanding of the meaning behind many of the passages considered controversial. “When selecting books for students many considerations are made by an English teacher, including the contribution which each book may make to the education of the reader, its
aesthetic value, its honesty, its readability for a particular group of students and its appeal to adolescents” (Davis 23). Creative English teachers who have ventured outside the boundaries of the traditional text are the most immediate victims of censorship; however the real victims are the students who are denied the freedom to explore ideas and pursue truth wherever and however they wish.
The right of any individual not just to read, but to read whatever he or she wants to read is basic to a democratic society, and the freedom of inquiry is essential to education in such a society. Many schools have already removed from their libraries and English teachers have avoided using works which they fear may make the members of the community upset. Consequently, “many students are presently being educated in an
atmosphere hostile to free inquiry” (Burress 17). Teachers then become concerned with
their job security and lose sight of their students’ needs. When this occurs, the teacher is no longer a stimulant to adventurous thinking, “a deadening dogma takes the place of free inquiry”, pursuit of knowledge is discouraged, and discussion often leaves off where it should begin (Cox 32). In order to restore the desire for exploration in the classroom, censorship needs to cease so those teachers can feel comfortable to continue doing their job.
Many people believe that the old saying “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” is true when it comes to censorship in order to protect students. It becomes the job of the schools and teachers during school hours to parent the students and assume responsibility for their well being. By allowing young-adults to read material that may be inappropriate or too mature, the teacher is invading on the rights of the parents to instill their own beliefs and morals in their children. The students could be opened up to a whole other world full of situations that are not necessary for them to read about; such as violence, rape, sex, drugs, and profanity. Protecting students from these harmful passages in books will preserve their innocence and ensure their safety. However, due to censorship, students are left with an inadequate and distorted picture of the ideals, values, and problems with their culture (Jenkins 13). Because of the fear of censorship many authors are not adequately represented in public schools or are represented in anthologies not by their best work, but by their “safest” or “least offensive” work. Books have been criticized as “filthy,” “un-American,” “overly realistic,” and “anti-war.” Some have even been attacked for being controversial suggesting that “for some people the purpose of education is not the investigation of the ideas but rather the indoctrination of certain set of beliefs and standards” (Burress 9).
The responsibility the school has to help students grow and mature in their knowledge should be their main concern. Community faith in their teachers to select, or censor, books to enhance this growth should be strong, especially considering the education backgrounds and training of English teachers. In society based on the basic rights and freedoms, denial of the freedom to read and the freedom of inquiry should not even be considered. As Wallace Stevens once wrote, “Literature is the better part of life. To this it seems inevitably necessary to add, provided that life is the better part of literature.”