In freshman year, many Ridgewood High School students read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. In sophomore year, they might pick up Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. In their junior year, several analyze The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. And in their senior year, many read Toni Morrison’s Beloved. All four of these books have, at some point, been on the American Library Association’s list of top ten most challenged books. A “challenged” book is one that has been requested for censorship due to themes that are deemed inappropriate for students to read. Ridgewood High School itself has a history of challenging or banning books before, like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1996, according to the Encyclopedia of Censorship. Now, however, our school actively celebrates the inclusion of such books in our curriculum during the annual Banned Books Week.
Created in 1982 by the American Library Association and Amnesty International, Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read and raises awareness about the censorship of books. This year, Banned Books Week occurred from September 18 to 24. Throughout the week, the learning commons kept up a display of books that have been previously banned.
Unfortunately, it seems as though not many students have noticed the display. Of the students interviewed, only one knew about Banned Books Week. However, many of those students had opinions about banned books that seemed to align with the purpose of this movement. Senior Justin Wang agreed that books should not be banned because the grounds for banning books are often very subjective. “Who determines what books are attacks? The government? Companies?” he said. “There is plenty of room online for reviewers or other people to debate legitimacy.” He did not feel it fair to give one body all the power to decide what books are right and wrong. Similarly, Sarah Jeong, another senior, believed all kinds of information, even if it is hate speech, should be accessible to everyone. But, she added, context is very important. Readers should be aware of who wrote the texts they are reading and for what reason. Thus, if certain hateful ideas are perpetuated by reading, Sarah claims, “that is not the fault of the books themselves but of the failure in education.”
Although not many students have been aware about Banned Books Week, it seems there are enough grounds to continue and further develop this celebration at Ridgewood High School. Interviewees have suggested more promotion over the loudspeakers, on bulletin boards, or in English classrooms. Sarah Jeong suggested devoting one English class period to discussing the question of banning books. Seeing as some students believe certain books should be banned—such as Siobhan Morgan who feared that “people with prejudiced opinions might get hold of books with prejudiced ideas”—it appears that there is opportunity for rich and well-rounded discussions among students. Regardless of which direction those discussions flow, it is clear many RHS students understand the power of books and the delicacy that corresponds with such power. Having this understanding and appreciation for literature, RHS is a great place for Banned Books Week to flourish.
Graphic: Vivian Yuan