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Banning Books Hurts Students

We talk so much today about developing critical thinking in students, and yet we often shield them from reading books that have the potential to do so ("Idaho school system removes book from curriculum after parental outrage," Reuters, Apr. 5). The latest example involves The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown & Co., 2007).  Although it was the winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature, the school board in Medidian, Idaho voted to delete the book from the curriculum because some parents complained about profanity, racial epithets, anti-Christian rhetoric and sexual material.

It always amazes me that school boards so easily cave in to the strident demands of a handful of parents about controversial subjects.  It's as if they believe that high school students live in a cloistered world.  If a book has no redeeming literary value, then I can completely understand what takes place. But I fail to see how students can ever be expected to develop intellectually if they are prevented from reading books that do not reflect established thinking.

Real education involves subjecting students to ideas that by their very nature can make them feel uncomfortable.  If we persist in bowdlerizing material, we do them a distinct disservice. This is seen at the University of California Santa Barbara, where the student Senate recently passed a resolution calling for mandatory trigger warnings from professors about lectures containing material that may distress them ("Warning: College students, this editorial may upset you," Los Angeles Times, Mar. 31).  

If the trend continues, students will be fed a diet of bland and innocuous material that meets the criterion for being safe. Little wonder that so many of them are bored.  

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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