Why Censorship Fails Every Time

It is a known fact that banning books doesn’t actually protect children, and censorship really does nothing more than highlight the fears of the adults who would have books pulled from schools and libraries. In a recent From the Square post on the NYUPress blog, columnist Philip Nel dissects these ideas to illustrate why censorship fails every time.

“Banned and challenged books tell us very little about what is suitable for actual children,” writes Nel. “Instead, books targeted for censure offer an index of adult fears, reflecting, as David Booth says, ‘changing ideas about childhood and notions of suitability.’” As we see time and time again in challenge cases, the kinds of arguments made by many would-be censors have an explicit claim of trying to protect the children, but implicitly they are nothing more than attempts to regulate others based on their own personal beliefs and opinions — attempts that end up potentially stunting the growth and development of children and preventing them from being exposed to different life experiences that will help them adequately function as citizens in a global and diverse social sphere.

“[L]ike all attempts to safeguard children’s innocence, removing books from libraries and curricula are not only doomed to failure; they are an abdication of adult responsibility,” continues Nel, “and, as Marah Gubar writes of associating innocence with childhood, ‘potentially damaging to the wellbeing of actual young people.’” He adds:

A responsible adult recognizes that innocence is a negative state — an absence of knowledge and experience — and thus cannot be sustained. Shielding children from books that offer insight into the world’s dangers puts these children at risk. As Meg Rosoff notes, “If you don’t talk to kids about the difficult stuff, they worry alone.” Books offer a safe space in which to have conversations about difficult subjects. Taking these books out of circulation diminishes understanding and increases anxiety.

In the past year alone, so many people have come out to issue warnings about the dangers of banning children the right to read. From award-winning advocates like Neil Gaiman, beloved children’s book authors like Judy Blume and Dav Pilkey, and comics creators like Raina Telgemeier, the message is has common refrains, from “Parents are getting cuckoo” to “I say go and read. Read what you like to read.”

As Nel reminds us, “Young people do want to learn. Concerned adults should acknowledge innocence’s inevitable evaporation, and recognize that the young likely know more than you think they do. So, respect their curiosity. Take their concerns seriously. Let them read. Let them learn.”

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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!