The Absolutely True Influence of Banning Books in Schools
Updated: Jul 28
For centuries books have been a powerful tool in communication, education, and politics, and as a result the banning of books has also been an influential tool in controlling the ideas of the public. In America we tend to frown upon such censorship with our First Amendment rights, but some believe when it comes to educating the youth of our country, censorship of certain books is needed.
Many of these books are banned within school systems by parent outrage and administrative review due to their inappropriate nature, and this umbrella term can be used for books with swear words and sexual references and crude humor and violence and illicit activities and even queer representation. These kind of complaints tend to come from the population of more conservative and traditional adults that can surround a school, but there are also many people on the opposite end of the spectrum who wish to ban certain books because of their racist or sexist or homophobic ideologies.
In 2020 the American Library Association released a list of the Top 100 Banned & Challenged Books of Last Decade. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is placed at number one on the list, so I decided to read it.
Overall there are about 25 uses of the word “ass,” 29 directly sexual refernces (7 of which are solely about masterbation), and 33 other miscellanious swear words in a book that is 230 pages long. The book also includes reference to normalized underage drinking, a plethora of instances of physical violence, and many negative opinions of God which include a comic mocking Jesus and The Bible with a fart joke.
Initially I could recognize some of these as reasons why certain parents and teachers might disapprove of the novel, but I thought about all the teenagers I’ve known in my life and I recognize so many of them, including myself, in those word use statistics. It might be a hard realization to come to for many adults, but as I continued to read and thoroughly enjoy Alexie’s work, I discovered that this inappropriateness of storytelling gave him credibility as an author and connected with his characters as someone who also experiences the word in a similar way. It added authenticity to the story and that made it even more compelling.
In a world of highly uncensored social media accessed by kids of all ages, I always find it funny to see parents react to strongly to the appropriateness of the books their children read in schools when dealing with sex or swear words because those are often common themes on the internet between teenagers, and they are themes that those teenagers will most likely carry on into their adult lives, as almost everyone in the world does.
Outside of inappropriate language, however, the book does pose another issue for a completely different group of people. As the story of a young Native American boy struggling with witnessing the hardship of life on a reservation, the narrative can be problematic if not understood correctly by certain audiences. Throughout the book Alexie discusses Native Americans’ poverty, lack of success, and strong use of alcohol, and while these are vital things to understand about Native American hardship in our country the main character’s decision to go to a white school outside of the reservation to find success and hope might be seen as a perpetuation of white superiority and not a recognition of the systemic oppression that makes white communities more successful than many Native American ones. Within the book itself, it is hard to discern how issues are affecting Native Americans and not being caused by them without fully understanding the nuance of the systemic oppression they endure.
That is exactly why school is the perfect place for this book to be presented to children, in a place where that understanding can be given. Not all students would need that understanding, but all students could benefit from the conversations in which that understanding resulted. Unfortunately this is another key reason why many conservative parents and teachers and board members all fear this book so much. They fear things like Critical Race Theory indoctrinating their children, but we must realize that not only are these things part of reality, but that to ban books from our children to keep kids from being politically manipulated is a form of such manipulation.
School is the most influential time in a child's life, and the books they read play a big part in that influence, so we must choose what literature we promote with thought and understanding of not only the world, but also the audience who will be reading them.
With that in mind, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to almost anyone over the age of 13. It is funny and heartbreaking and deeply moving, just read it with the goal of understanding the nuance behind it.