Book Bans Limit What Education Should Be

In this opinion piece, a student argues that book bans limit worldviews, in and outside the classroom.

A photo of books lined up.

Schools and public libraries have been staples in our communities for centuries. They offer us a world of knowledge, perspective, and ensure an authentic record of information. Libraries play a key role in our educational development and fulfill community needs. This is one of many reasons why the rapid number of book bans recently enacted have sparked contentious debate across the nation.  

In 2022, according to reporting by the Kentucky Lantern, challenges to books and materials in Kentucky tripled, rising from 23 titles challenged to 70. At first glance, it may not seem like a concerning number, especially compared to the 2,349 titles that were challenged in Texas. However, any amount of book censorship can have harmful impacts on our schools and communities.


According to a report by PEN America, the majority of books targeted include those that feature LGBTQ+ characters, discuss race and racism throughout American history, or include sex education. The report also notes that during the 2022-2023 school year, book bans also targeted health-related content, such as materials covering mental health, bullying, puberty, substance abuse, and more. PEN America also notes that in the same time frame, instances of book bans increased by 33% from the year prior.

With our current political climate, it’s easy to see how this percentage could increase in the years following. When books are banned, conservative filters are placed over library content in an effort to better serve the values of a small number of individuals or an organized group. As reported by The Courier Journal, Moms for Liberty, a national nonprofit with Kentucky chapters, was labeled as an “anti-government extremist group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Group members pushed to ban three books in a Kentucky school district. In Owensboro, a group called Daviess County Citizens for Decency audited public library books to find over 200 books “inappropriate,” called for them to be removed, and demanded policies be changed to follow their “library expectations,” according to the Owensboro Times.

It’s important that student voices are being heard beyond school walls. Students in Kentucky are actively talking and thinking about book bans, and how they are impacted. Tala Saad, who graduated from Kentucky Country Day School and is an active member of the Kentucky Student Voice Team, has spent time thinking about the impact of such bans.

“Schools are there to help students learn how to navigate the real world in the world that they live in,” Saad said. “And once you leave the school building, and even in the school building, we are part of a diverse world with conflicting opinions and conflicting views and a complicated history.”

“If you go and give students these shielded, filtered-out versions of history that aren't true, or that don't prepare them to navigate this diverse world they live in, then you're doing them an extreme disservice in the school system,” Saad added. When students encounter conflict in the real world without experience having space to navigate real issues, society could end up with a population that “can't be civically engaged in a responsible and productive way that they need to do,”Saad said. 

In addition to doing students a disservice, Saad added that when one pushes a singular narrative rather than the whole story–such as limiting the teaching of history–she does think it’s an act of racism, especially given the content of materials that are targeted the most. 

“You’ve created this environment where if you aren’t seen as the default, then you don’t deserve to be represented in the field, which is completely not true,” Saad said. “And so that’s the message that you’re sending to students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and students that are a victim of these bans, that their stories are not worthy of being represented in the classroom.” 

These bans foster the idea that if you don’t fit the common narrative or identity, then you yourself aren’t worthy of representation in the classroom. When they have no visual or basic representation in a school setting, students grow and learn in an environment that isn’t welcoming to their different identities, or different experiences concerning parts of who they are, like sexuality and race. When students aren’t given a general understanding of these topics, it limits how they view themselves in society. It deprives students of a true and honest education, one that aims to be inclusive to everyone.

“The purpose of book bans is to limit access to controversial or sensitive subjects,” Ivy, an 11th grader from Rowan County, told The New Edu. While that might sound fine in theory, Ivy said, exposure to these topics is what helps to “build critical thinking skills and social intelligence in younger generations.”

“Not learning about sexual assault only creates more victims. Not learning about racial prejudices only perpetuates systemic racism and implicit bias,” Ivy said. “Not learning about mental health reinforces the stigma and adds barriers to getting potentially life-saving help to kids. Not learning about sexuality and gender identity strands countless LGBTQ+ students in an unaccepting and potentially dangerous home environment without any kind of support from a trusted adult or institution.”

Ivy’s insight illustrates one of the biggest dangers of book bans: when we allow kids to fall victim to dangerous situations, or complicated ones, without access to information on important topics,, we are placing them in a vulnerable position. Without  exposure to crucial ideas and perspectives, we are robbing our generation of the opportunity to form our own unique outlook on the world. 

As new generations take charge in the world, it's possible that we won’t be equipped with the knowledge and the understanding of our society needed to make change, or to simply exist in a harmonious way. According to reporting by Axios, young people today–Generation Z–take a “more progressive stance” on issues of social justice, and see “standing up for the voiceless as central to their identity, more than any other generation in America." 

But we can’t fight for progress, reflection, and improvement from past generations if the rapid emergence of censorship threatens to prevent new generations from accomplishing these undertakings. Disabling access to basic information at a crucial moment in youth development is harming our generation. A supply of factual, credible, and plentiful knowledge offers a fountain of educational development anyone can drink from. Book bans limit the availability and accessibility of information that is so crucial for our own development.

Luisa Sanchez contributed reporting to this piece.


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