Thoughts on Freedom to Read
The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library is dedicated to championing the life and legacy of Hoosier author, artist, and man of letters, Kurt Vonnegut. Part of Vonnegut’s enduring legacy is his untiring commitment to the Freedom of Speech and the free circulation of ideas.
For this reason, KVML feels the need to speak out about the troubling trend of book banning in public schools.
Recently, four novels have been removed from the alternative reading list of a high school in Nome, Alaska. The challenged books include Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was initially removed from the list but was eventually restored.
A concerned parent cited, “large amounts of profanity, sex, violence, abuse, rape, and incest” as the reasons for removing the books from the list. However, it is these very difficult subjects that make the challenged books so important for young people. Stories about life’s most difficult subjects engender open an honest discussion from which students can learn and grow.
In another attempt to control the content available to teachers and students, a bill has been introduced in Arkansas to completely ban the use of writings by noted historian and educator Howard Zinn. This is not the first time Zinn has been the subject of a book ban.
In 2010, Hoosier governor Mitch Daniels banned the use of A People’s History of the United States in classrooms across Indiana. The text was also prohibited in classrooms in Tucson, Arizona in 2011 as part of a statewide ban on Mexican American Studies.
Like the censorship in Alaska and across the country, this was an attempt to limit the alternative perspectives available to students by providing a single narrative and censoring truths that may be difficult to handle. This is a dangerous proposition. We need new knowledge and new information to constantly readdress our points of view and increase our empathy towards others.
The free circulation of ideas within a community, and especially among students, is of the utmost importance in producing educated and engaged citizens. For this reason, we celebrate the Freedom of Speech and denounce any attempt to limit students’ access to educational materials that will help them grow as individuals. We are part of a national consortium of organizations that support free expression and we will always work tirelessly to support everyone’s freedom to read and learn.