Contemporary Conversations: School Censorship? It's Complicated...
July 12, 2023
12 July 2023 episode of The American Idea podcast
In this episode of The American Idea, we delve into a topic of contemporary significance and relevance for parents, grandparents, schools, and policymakers: childhood schooling and the books children should read. Jeff is joined by Rita Koganzen, Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston, for this episode.
In her article titled “No Such Thing as a Banned Book,” Koganzen focuses on the notion of “book banning” or “book censorship” in the context of American schools. In it she questions why these terms are used to describe the controversy surrounding certain books in school curricula or libraries, considering that the situation in the United States is vastly different from the book censorship witnessed in totalitarian regimes.
Unlike in more centralized systems of government, schools operate under local control in the United States, with teachers, administrators, school boards, and parents each having their own perspectives on what constitutes a good education. This decentralized structure often leads to conflicts regarding who gets to decide the content of the school curriculum and library.
Book selections for school curricula and libraries are always made by adults, including teachers, administrators, and librarians. By necessity, this process involves excluding certain books. Consequently, not all books will be deemed suitable for school settings. The controversy surrounding book banning, therefore, arises from the selection process itself, where individuals decide which books are included or excluded.
The controversies surrounding childhood schooling and book choices in America have deep historical roots. While the language of “book banning” and “censorship” may evoke strong emotional responses, it is crucial to understand the distinct nature of the American context. The conflict of authority between educators, school boards, and parents persists, shaping discussions about what children should read in schools. Recognizing these issues enable us to engage in productive conversations that balance educational goals, community values, and individual rights within American schools.