To ban or not to ban: There really is no question

Delaney Brenner, Staff Writer

It’s 2021 and we are still fighting for our right to choose what we read. Of the six books brought up for School Board review, A Lesson Before Dying is the only one I know currently being used in the classroom; it is in the curriculum for MYP English 10. Each of these books has minority main characters with The Bluest Eye and A Lesson Before Dying focusing on the black experience, Gender Queer having a nonbinary and asexual main character, Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out including interviews from six transgender or gender-neutral young adults, Good Trouble: Lessons from the Civil Rights Playbook discussing events from the Civil Rights Movement, and Lawn Boy’s main character being Hispanic and familiar with racial and socioeconomic struggles. Of these six books, I have read two: Gender Queer and A Lesson Before Dying. So while I will make broad comments about all six books, I am not the most reliable source for the other four.

My question for the school board is: Why stop here? If they are going after five of these books for containing sex why not go after 1984, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Bride Price, and Song of Solomon too? These books all include instances of sex, sexual assault, or rape. Three of the four also follow minority characters if that is the real issue here. What arbitrary guidelines consider the first books to be “graphic” but not these? Book restriction, something I am a strong believer against, is a very slippery slope, and if this is the path the school board wishes to take, I want to know how far they will go.

When considering the content of these books, I am not going to pretend they are the most comfortable scenes to read. Of course, no one enjoys reading about a father raping his child, as in the excerpt of The Bluest Eyes I read, but that does not make the work less valuable. Most of the time being uncomfortable means that we are learning and growing. Rape still exists in the world and burying our heads in the sand will not make that go away. We need to stop pretending that high schoolers live under a rock. By the time they are seniors, most will have read about or watched media including sexual activity. Some will even be sexually active themselves.

In a way that makes reading these types of books even more valuable, as they display different experiences and can be valuable teaching tools. In any case, the sexual content of these novels should not be the main takeaway from reading these books. People want to see themselves in the books they read and connect to the characters and the situations they go through. Minority characters in literature are extremely important for the health and well-being of young people because they demonstrate authentic experiences and provide a sense of community. There is value for non-minority readers as well, because these books force their readers to be open-minded to the lives of people around them.

However, I will say that I can understand some parental concerns with these books (not including A Lesson Before Dying). There is a reason their recommended audience is 12th graders. When researching Lawn Boy, the main contested passage contains “graphic” language to describe sexual activity between two male minors. I can see why some parents would not want their children reading that. At the same time, since when has parental supervision become the job of the school system? It should not be. 

The bottom line is that restricting access to these books is not going to keep students from getting their hands on them. The books are still available through the public library system and some can even be found online. After learning about the controversy, some students, such as myself, will even go out of their way to read these books purely out of spite, and curiosity. 

I understand not every book ever written is appropriate for a high-school audience, but these books passed the initial vetting process that all books in VBCPS schools must go through. What has changed since then?  And when has the banning of books ever made a positive impact? Sure, parents have a right to monitor what their children read, but they should not try to restrict the access of other students to that same literature. Moreover, this ban was not proposed by an impartial parent. It was proposed by the member of the School Board, who openly admitted to not having read these books, blindly following the actions of Fairfax’s School Board. At what point are people like Manning going to realize that their own personal opinions should not be forced on to other people? When will adults respect our maturity and right to choose the information we consume? If action is taken, maybe in some small way it can start now. With us.