Why we shouldn’t ban books | Series 1, Episode 6

Why we should not ban books. Series 1, Episode 6

Episode 6

Episode 6 show notes

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Episode 6 transcript

Why we shouldn’t ban books

There’s been a spate, recently, of teachers and academics speaking out on social media to encourage various children’s books to be banned. Organised waves of disgust are aimed at celebrity authors, lifestyle choices, gender determination, poor word choices or simply writers who the amorphous mass have decided are neither nice nor deserving people. Perhaps they are. Perhaps they’re not. But it does seem as if these attacks on books masquerade as veiled personal attacks on the character of the writer. It’s worth pointing out that any published book is a team effort. There are illustrators, editors, proof-readers, printers, distributors, agents, publicists, marketers, more printers, proof-copy reviewers, bloggers and people who I’ve inadvertently omitted (please don’t be offended), who all vicariously share in the flak when a book is attacked. I wonder, Do people attack books because they are softer targets than real people?

And let’s not forget the books branded the most indefensible, the most morally corrupt, the most damaging and abhorrent, throughout millennia of history, are all available in bookshops, in National libraries or to read for free on Project Gutenberg. So if these books are not banned, why do educators so afraid of a celebrity middle-grade novel?

Banning one book from a school library might not seem like a significant act. But it is. Banning one book leads to another, and another, and becomes the thin end of a chilling wedge. High-minded arguments to ban books are rarely cogent and have never achieved any intended aims to improve society, for the same reason that notions of demolishing concentration camps, destroying statues, rewriting history and cancelling people are not constructive. These actions fail to address the wrongs. They simply place a morality fig leaf over humanity’s worst discretions. Banning, destroying and cancelling – in the long term – removes any possibility for society to reflect, progress and change for the better.

People need to remember atrocities, injustices and wrongs, in order to understand what caused them and make sure they never happen again. Only by understanding what went wrong can we put things right.

If we ban a popular book, we simply make it taboo, something to be sought out, and something subversive and perhaps something desirable. The more popular the book, the more likely the book will be sought out. Let’s not forget, getting a song banned by the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s was a surefire tactic to achieve chart success.

By banning a popular book, as teachers, we are abrogating our responsibility to explain, and disregarding any opportunity to create positive change.

Rather than banning books, we should use them as a teaching point. The more popular the book or author is, the more opportunities will exist to educate. The more offensive the material, the more important it is to explain why and invite students to discuss and understand in order to effect positive change.

Surely we want to prevent extreme ideologies, and discussing and unpicking them and demonstrating them to be flawed is a big part of what we as teachers in the UK seek to do under the Prevent strategy. Banning books is effectively preventing all that PREVENT stands for.

The current government advice regarding safeguarding children from extreme viewpoints recommends “Providing skills and knowledge to explore political and social issues critically, to weigh evidence, debate and make reasoned arguments”. Banning books in the current bestseller charts and which are found in every large supermarket and bookshop is not a great starting point and flies in the face of educational guidance and research, and, in fact, creates gaps in students’ knowledge and cultural experience.

The more we ban things we don’t like, ban everything that offends us, and ban anything we see as troubling, our ignorance will lead to indifference. Once we as a people reach a state of indifference, then we become a society without hope.

It is important to remember and never forget, all the wrongs in our world, and throughout our history. Elie Wiesel explained in his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture why we should remember for the sake of all humanity – “to put an end to hatred of anyone who is “different” – whether black or white, Jew or Arab, Christian or Moslem – anyone whose orientation differs politically, philosophically, sexually”. He implored: “Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history.”

Talk about books. But please, don’t ban them.

Episode 6 credits

To see full details of licensing information, creative commons, GNU license credits and other attributions that apply to every episode of this podcast, see our School Reading List podcast credits information page.

Credits specific to this episode

  • Kevin MacLeod – Bummin on Tremelo – (purchased lifetime extended licensed registered to Tom Tolkien license ID FML-170359-11969).

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About Tom Tolkien

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Tom Tolkien is a highly qualified (BA Hons, PGCE, QTS) children's literature expert and teacher with over 25 years of experience. He has led inset courses, developed curriculum materials, spoken at conferences, advised on longlisting for several international children's literature literature awards and written for educational publishers including contributing to a BETT award-nominated app. Social profiles: Twitter | Linkedin