History professors discuss the effects of book banning in schools

     In recent weeks students, teachers and literary activists have brought the issue of book banning to the forefront of ongoing censorship discourses, claiming that the continued efforts to ban books within education systems is oppressive and forces teachers to teach only one perspective. 

     UCCS history lecturer Nina Frischmann explained that book banning is especially detrimental to teachers who need to teach students about the topics and events that many authors are able to depict accurately and uniquely due to personal experience or research.  

     “Banning books is problematic,” they said. “It censors teachers just as much as it censors students.” 

     History professor Christopher Bairn, who taught a GPS course with Frischmann on the social consequences of censorship, explained that book banning has been an issue since the emergence of the printing press in the 15th century. While outright censorship is more widely frowned upon today, book banning benefits under the guise of protecting students, according to Bairn.  

UCCS history professors discuss the effects of book banning in schools. Photo by Meghan Germain. 

     “Banning books in schools is about controlling what can be taught,” he said. “It’s about controlling the perspectives being represented [in the classroom].” 

     In January, the Tennessee state school board unanimously voted to ban “Maus” — an award-winning Holocaust graphic novel published in 1991 — from being taught in Tennessee public schools. According to an article from the New York Times, “Members of the board said the book, which portrays Jews as mice and Nazis as cats … contained inappropriate curse words and a depiction of a naked character.” 

     This is one of several instances where books have been banned for nudity and other thematic material that the author included not out of support but for the sake of historical accuracy or to raise awareness about persisting social issues. 

     The author of “Maus,” Art Spiegelman, told the New York Times that the Tennessee school board, by agreeing to ban his book, essentially decided that the Holocaust should be taught in a “nicer” way than how he wrote about it in his novel.  

     “This is disturbing imagery,” Spiegelman told the New York Times, confronting the elements of the novel that were brought under question by the board. “But you know what? It’s disturbing history.” 

     Based on findings from the American Library Association, the banned books lists of 2020-2021 are largely compiled of critically-acclaimed books that confront issues of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism and transphobia. According to an article from “them.” magazine, “The ALA says that between September and December 2021 alone, they received more than 330 reports of book challenges, the most in over two decades.” 

     Some of the most-banned books on the ALA list from 2020 included “Melissa” (more widely known as “George”) by Alex Gino; “All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely; “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson; “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee; “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas.  

     To get involved with the book banning issue, UCCS students can look to organizations like ALA who encourage campuses to get involved with Banned Books Week, a nationwide event that occurs in the last week of September. The Kraemer Family Library encourages students to get involved with the event every year.  

     In April, ALA will release the most-banned books of 2022, which students can access on the ALA website or on the Banned Books Week campaign page.