In 1982, a case taking on the practice of book banning in schools was brought to the Supreme Court. Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico dealt with a school board in Levittown, NY that ordered several books be removed from school libraries for promoting anti-Christian and anti-American ideals. The court ruled that the school board could not restrict books based on content that the board members disagreed with. Despite this case, book banning is still a very relevant issue today. Students often feel they have no power in the matter, yet there are ways they can make their voices heard. Ayn Frazee, the Franklin High School librarian, said “I think students need to be really vocal about their First Amendment right. Students can contact their school boards, and can advocate for controversial titles.”
Books being challenged or banned for content matter that is “inappropriate for students” is something occurs more in more conservative states such as Texas, where books such as “How to be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram X. Kendi are being challenged. However, Oregon isn’t safe from the challenging and banning of books. Medford School District recently removed all copies of the graphic novel adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale” for themes of sexual violence and suicide. Neither of those subjects were condoned in the book, and they are important to the message of the narrative.
There is a difference between not having a book because it is not age appropriate, and banning it entirely. It is no shock that one could go to any elementary school in America and not find a copy of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” however, it can be a valuable educational tool for students of the appropriate age group, such as high-schoolers. “Banning books removes the opportunity for a student to make the choice for themselves about what kind of content they want to ingest. Not every book is appropriate for every person but to remove the choice is extremely detrimental,” said Frazee.
In another recent instance of book banning in Oregon, both Hermiston and Cascade School Districts refused to participate in the 2018-2019 elementary school Battle of the Books because of a book on the reading list. “George” by Alex Gino is a children’s book with a transgender main character. Both districts deemed it so inappropriate for elementary schoolers that they did not allow their students to participate in the program. This restriction also took an opportunity away from transgender children who could have seen themselves in a book.
According to the Oregon Office of Intellectual Freedom’s 2021 Annual Report, sexually explicit content and violence are the leading cause of books being challenged, making up about 46% of challenged books combined. Books with LGBTQ+ themes come in second, making up around 11% of all challenged books in Oregon. Grace Wilde (11), a Franklin Library Teacher’s Assistant, says “It’s really important for people who have experienced these things to be able to see themselves represented.”
In response to books being banned in Oregon schools, and in schools all over the world, Frazee says, “[i]ntellectual freedom is the right to choose. You get to decide what’s right for you, but you don’t get to decide what is right for other people.”