Burning Books, Banning Knowledge: How Banning Books is Affecting the Jenks Library (Letter From The Editor)

By: Mara Winters

Books can be windows, mirrors, and doors; they challenge us to see our world with a new perspective. Books can stretch our minds and imaginations, urging us to grow and define our limits. Books can work miracles–until they are banned. 

Book banning is a form of censorship where local officials or organizations remove certain books from public libraries, school libraries, and reading lists when said books go against their ideas or themes. This has become a bigger debate throughout our country in recent years and is continuing to grow. Just this year Oklahoma’s State Senate introduced a bill that prohibits public school libraries from having books that focus on sexual activity, sexual identity, or gender identity, as well as a bill that forces school libraries to remove controversial books at the request of parents. 

Oklahoma is not the only state being introduced to these types of bills.

In Tennessee, the McMinn County school board has removed the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, from an eighth-grade module on the Holocaust because of nudity and curse words; similarly, 14 states have has targeted the book “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George Matthew Johnson due to the books focus on race and sexuality. (More about this)

Many of the books being challenged today include themes of LGBTQ+, race, mental health awareness, or sexuality. Some of the books currently being challenged in many states are “Lawn Boy” by Jonothan Evian, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, among many others. 

“All Boys Aren’t Blue” Book Cover and “Maus” Book Cover

Book banning bills have popped up all over the United States and are becoming a more apparent problem in Oklahoma. If these bills advance, how will they affect the Jenks libraries and students? 

Removing books can harm students and can be detrimental to their personal growth. One Jenks student, who prefers to stay anonymous, had reason to believe that her favorite book had been taken off the shelves in the high school library. 

Last semester she checked out and read the book “Red, White, and Royal Blue,” by Casey McQuiston, from cover to cover. 

Olivia Parkey Reading “Red White and Royal Blue”

“It was the first book that I was ever able to finish,” she said. “I just really connected with the characters. After reading the book I realized it’s okay to be who I am and like who I like, and other students should be able to do the same.”

This book follows the story of the President of the United States’ son, as well as the prince of England. The boys are in love and fight through many obstacles to be together. 

After the student finished the book, her teacher informed her about a rumor going around the English Department; her beloved book was secretly being banned. 

“When I heard this I was really upset, I could only think of one reason the book would be removed from the library because it’s about gay characters,” she explained.

“Lawn Boy”, “Gender Queer”, and “To Kill A Mockingbird” Book Covers

After hearing the same rumor about the book “Red, White, and Royal Blue” I decided to check the book out myself. After three trips to the library searching for the infamous book I was finally able to check it out, so thankfully the rumor was just a rumor, and this book is not banned. 

The student was relieved to find out students were still able to check out her favorite book, but she and many other concerned teachers and students believe that banning books in our library may soon not be ‘just a rumor.’

Sydney Ritze, an English teacher at Jenks High School, fears that book banning may become a sudden reality in our public school. 

“The world is scared,” she said. “Movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the ‘Me Too Movement’ have people worried about a changing world and people want to feel in control.” 

When parents become over-controlling it can stem from a multitude of reasons; the most common being fear of losing their superiority in the relationship (MedicineNet), they feel the need to control every part of their children’s lives, and these types of parents are now doing this through the literary world. 

“As a parent, I do believe that parents deserve to know what their children are reading, but banning books for everyone sets a dangerous precedent,” said Ritze. 

So are students talking to their parents about what they are reading?

One senior at Jenks has totally separated her parents from her reading life. Faith Mungai, 12, has been hiding the books she reads from her parents since her sophomore year after her mother confiscated “The Maze Runner” by James Dashner, after little to no explanation why.

“The Maze Runner” Book Cover

“It has caused me to be more secretive with what I’m reading,” she said. 

Parents strive to keep the ongoing preservation of their child’s innocence, but is this damaging their student?

“If you are dictating your child’s decisions, how will they ever be able to make their own decisions when they are older,” says Mungai. 

Restricting books is not only keeping students from making their own decisions but it is restricting personal growth.

Mungai has recently read the book “The Color Purple” in her AP Literature class. This book has themes about racism, LGBTQ+, abusive relationships, and religion. It is the ideal target of a banned book in many eyes because of these themes, but it is easy to see the bad in the book and ignore the good. “The Color Purple ” is being taught for a reason. 

“The Color Purple” Book Cover

The book follows a Black woman’s life journey struggling with religion, sexual abuse, and sexuality, and how she overcomes this with forgiveness and hope.

“I feel better about being a Black woman because I took pride in her resilience,” Mungai said after reading the book. “I’m really grateful I read it, it gave me a new perspective on someone’s story I would have never seen.” 

Sheri Henning and Shari McLaughlin are the Jenks High School librarians. They described books as “Windows,” “Mirrors,” and “Doors” because books can help you see a new perspective, see yourself in a character/story, or show the readers a new world.

“It’s important for all of us to see ourselves in the books we read,” said McLaughlin, “as well as reading about characters that are not like us. This is how we have empathy.” 

LGBTQ+ Books In the Jenks High School Library

The librarian’s job is to recommend and supply our students with good books, but no one is forced to read books, so why are parents trying to remove books? 

“Books have not only changed my life but I’ve seen them change the students’ lives,” said McLaughlin. 

Henning nodded her head in agreement.

“I once recommended a book to a student and when she came back to return it she told me that it had given her the courage to have a conversation with her parents,” Henning paused. “She hugged me, crying.” 

“The parents attempting to ban books in public school libraries have good intentions,” said McLaughlin. 

But couldn’t the books that they are trying to ban have those same intentions?

“Books are not here to hurt us, we read difficult books to lead us to a better understanding of the world,” said McLaughlin.  

Terry Keeling, is a recently-elected member of the Jenks Public School Board, and one of the main topics of focus in his recent election is book banning. 

“I don’t support book banning but I do support having appropriate materials in our libraries,” said Keeling. 

As a school board member, Keeling holds a responsibility to respect and listen to parents that want certain books banned as well as the parents that are against it. But the hard part is making both sides of this argument happy. 

“I don’t know if we can make both parties happy,” said Keeling, “but I’ve always been a fan of reading different news sources that have an opposing position from myself so I can better understand why people think what they think.” 

Keeling encourages both sides’ of parents to do the same thing. Read opposing opinions so we can understand both sides of the spectrum. 

“When we understand both sides of the story we can avoid being ignorant, which was a big part of the late 30s during Hitler’s rise of power and his book banning regiment,” said Keeling. 

“I want Jenks students to graduate being well rounded, smart, compassionate, critical thinkers,” said Keeling, but can we accomplish that by restricting what our students read?

Parents want to protect their children but books want to help their readers grow. Both sides have good intentions but coming to an agreement on what is appropriate and what is not differs for each parent. 

There is no right or wrong answer, but I encourage the parents concerned about the books their children are reading to read the full book. It is easy to make a judgment on one chapter, one page, one paragraph, or even one sentence but if we can read the whole book and see the full picture, we can understand that there is always a message or a learning experience. 

If you want to find out more about book banning, click here, and if you would like to learn more about how book banning affects other states and schools, click here!

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