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Famous Books Banned in American Public Schools

By The Room 241 Team

Celebrating its 30th year in the fight against censorship, America’s Banned Books Week ran  from Sept. 30 to Oct. 6. This year City Lights bookstore, an icon of cutting edge literature in San Francisco that’s owned by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, honored the occasion by having authors read excerpts from their favorite banned book. In makes sense that the legendary bookstore would stage such an event; in 1957, City Lights was charged with obscenity for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” Since its 1960s heyday, City Lights has been a champion of literary freedom and a symbol of resistance to conformity.

From classic works of literature to modern novels, the list of books that American schools have banned at one time or another is extensive, and it’s not unheard of for schools in different communities and states to have their own a set of criteria as to why books are banned. However, the books that have been banned in public schools at one time or another generally fall into one of the following categories:

Profanity and racial slurs

Profanity and racial slurs are the number one reason why books are banned in American public schools. In many cases, the language used in these books was a sign of the times. Books like “The Adventures of Huck Finn” Tby Mark Twain, and “Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger, are prime examples. In Twain’s novel, the “N” word is featured prominently, and in today’s racially tolerant culture it is found to be offensive. While the “Catcher in the Rye” can be found in many schools today, when it was first released it caused a firestorm of controversy because of its use of profanity. Other books that have been banned for profanity include:

  • “The Color Purple, “Alice Walker
  • “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee
  • “Of Mice and Men,” John Steinbeck

Too much sex

The last thing that some schools want is for students to be sitting in the library snickering over risqué and morally questionable passages in erotic books. Books that have been banned for too much sex include:

  • “Ulysses,” James Joyce
  • “Lolita, “Vladimir Nabokov
  • “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Maya Angelou

Politically and socially offensive

This is a vague and ambiguous criteria, and it’s one that school systems are likely to take advantage of. If a book has sexually explicit scenes and profanity, those are concrete examples of why it shouldn’t have a place in the American public school. However, who has the authority to judge whether a book is politically or socially offensive or not? Politics are subjective by nature, and not everyone has the same socio-economic background. Books that fall into this category include the following:

  • “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • “A Clockwork Orange,” Anthony Burgess
  • “Brave New World,” Aldous Huxley

As society’s morals, ethics and opinions have changed over the years and so has the list of banned books in American public schools. What was offensive in the ’60s and ’70s might seem conservative by today’s standards, and many books that were once on the banned list are now taught in modern classrooms. However, every school system has its own set of morals, ethics and opinions, and those same books that are taught in one school are still banned in another.

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