Banning books. Out of all the moves governments could make, out of all the important decisions they could debate over, books in schools (and their content) seem to make it at the top of the list. The recent bans on certain literature in schools, such as Art Spiegleman’s 1980 novel Maus by The Tennessee School Board, has sparked controversy across the country. Though the days of book burnings may be behind us, schools and libraries have since become the new battlegrounds for the war on books.
What’s more worrying, “over the past year, book challenges and bans have reached levels not seen in decades,” according to officials at the American Library Association’s (ALA) website on banned and challenged books, and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). The Guardian reported that the uptick and “unprecedented rise” of book banning listed 330 unique new cases between 1 September to 30 November of 2021 alone, “more than double the number for the whole of 2020.”
Investigating the topic, the New York Post tracked one story from Stephana Ferrell, which, unfortunately, represents many across the US. Ferrell’s political activism was mostly limited to the “occasional email” to city officials. That was until the change in Orange County, Florida, with an objection raised to cartoonist and writer Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir. The county decided to scrap the text from high school shelves last fall and sent activists like Ferrell into an uproar.
“By winter break, we realised this was happening all over the state and needed to start a project to rally parents to protect access to information and ideas in school,” said Ferrell.
The Florida Library Association (FLA) released a statement on 24 January 2022 that discussed the freedom to read for all library patrons. “Library materials are carefully selected by trained professionals who follow established collection development policies and professional standards,” it read.
“Banning, removing, or censoring material also violates the library patron’s right to intellectual freedom and their freedom to read,” the statement continued.
The ALA doesn’t support banning books, but on the ground individual librarians are also having to come up with ways themselves to combat the growing issue. “I can’t name a single librarian who’s okay with book banning,” said Amanda Oliver, writer and author of the wake-up call Overdue: Reckoning With the Public Library, which was released on 22 March 2022.
Now onto the forbidden authors we recommend you read while you still can:
Among the many books of the banned, Xtra* magazine’s listing of Flamer is a graphic novel that draws on Curato’s real-life experiences during the tender and trialling time of middle and high school. The protagonist Aiden Navarro “navigates friendships, bullies and a boy he can’t stop thinking about while at camp.”
Speaking to Xtra*, Curato explained that schools in Texas have been at the forefront of pushing Flamer’s ban status. “There is a consistent pattern of books for and/or by BIPOC and queer people. My book fits the profile,” he explained.
You didn’t really think I could get through this list without mentioning my favourite horror author, right? King has a plethora of books that have been banned, and even adaptations of his works in film have had their own series of roadblocks—The Shining (adapted by Stanley Kubrick) and Carrie come to mind. Though I prefer the film counterparts more than their original books, one fiction work by King stands out among the rest: Rage, which is so controversial it’s been out of print for 20 years, according to Screen Rant.
This case is strange since Rage’s content wasn’t unlike the common horrors of King’s other works. That being said, the “five separate real-life incidents of school shootings or classroom hostage-takings that appeared to be directly inspired by the story,” as Screen Rant took note of, may have had something to do with its banned status…
You may have heard about Silverberg’s Sex is a Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings, and YOU, written in partnership with Fiona Smith. However, what you might not have known is how much an “award-winning educational comic book for kids about sexuality, body parts and families,” as Xtra* labelled it, could cause sheer pandemonium among adults.
Silverberg himself admitted that the book “has been on the most challenged list of the American Library Association for a few years.” His hypothesis? “[People] don’t want them to learn to think critically about race, colonisation, gender, sexuality or violence.”
There are so many influential works of James Baldwin that I desperately want to share. However, to keep it short and somewhat sweet, I introduce to you Go Tell it on the Mountain. Thank me later.
Culture Trip described Judy Blume as “a hero to hundreds of thousands of teenagers across the globe,” and was also “one of the most banned authors in the US, second to only Stephen King.” Good Enough and The Evolution of a Girl were some of the most important books that got me through my own troubling teen years.
Of course, we have to dive into science-fiction and dystopian authors too. Since the genre of speculative fiction has had more than its fair share of banned books—cough, cough, 1984. However, A Clockwork Orange stands out as a novel that still confuses people to this day and in more ways than the made-up language filling its 324 pages. Burgess created a work of fiction that was both bizarre and brutal enough to get banned multiple times, in multiple countries, leading to the first American edition’s ending being butchered by censorship regulations, but that’s just my take.
Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a book that triggers some of the most staunch stances to collections of paper pages ever witnessed in history. The controversial novel has been at the epicentre of censorship debates since its publication in 1969. Long time, much? Vonnegut blends war stories with space-age science fiction to get us all to grips with the true violence of war.
For its emphasis on the prejudice faced by gay people during wartime Europe, the book has been labelled “blasphemous, immoral and obscene,” according to Culture Trip. The head of one school board reportedly “burned 32 copies of the book after it was attempted to be taught in the classroom.” Talk about making your stance clear.
Though the film has made its resurgence into popularity thanks to toxic masculine ‘filmbros’ obsessed with Christain Bale’s physique, American Psycho is a testament to Ellis’ ability to craft a novel and protagonist as interesting and complex as Patrick Bateman. Was it all simply a psychotic dream? Who’s to say?
Complaints soon plagued Alexie’s best-seller The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, from its supposedly eyebrow-raising “filthy words” to wild leaps labelling the book as “anti-Christian” in more recent years. 17 different schools across the US ripped it off their reading lists, which later prompted the author to condemn education officials in 2014.
Throwing my own two cents in, I have to mention one of my favourite authors and one of the few female winners of a Nobel Prize, the late, great Toni Morrison. There’s no experience quite like reading Beloved or The Bluest Eye—one of Morrison’s most notable and, more importantly, most banned books—for the first time, or picking up Home and unexpectedly having your heart shatter, or finding yourself enamoured by Tar Baby and Paradise.
“It’s definitely getting worse,” said Suzanne Nossel, the CEO of non-profit and free-speech organisation PEN America. “We used to hear about a book challenge or ban a few times a year. Now it’s every week or every day.” At least the efforts of librarians and organisations are working to change this troubling tide, such as Stephana Ferrell’s project with fellow Orange County parent Jen Cousins, the Florida Freedom to Read Project.
So, while you’re looking to expand your collection and that mountain TBR, try adding some of these before it’s too late.
According to Wikipedia, much of the traditional culture that surrounds corporal punishment in school, at any rate in the English-speaking world, derives largely from British practice in the 19th and 20th centuries. Advocates of school punishment argue that it provides an immediate response to indiscipline so that the student is quickly back in the classroom learning, unlike suspension from school. On the other hand, opponents, which include many medical and psychological societies along with human-rights groups, argue that physical punishment is ineffective in the long term, interferes with learning, leads to antisocial behaviour as well as causing low self-esteem and other forms of mental distress, and is a form of violence that breaches the rights of children.
That being said, some punishments that have been given to children in schools are quite unbelievable. Here are 11 of the most shocking punishments ever given to students.
In 2011, a 13-year-old student from Albuquerque, New Mexico, was allegedly arrested for burping during class. According to his lawsuit, after he “burped audibly,” his teacher called the school resource officer, who in turn called the authorities to have him arrested for “interfering with public education.”
The lawsuit also claimed that school authorities transported the boy from the school to the detention facility without notifying his parents. Additionally, it described an incident that took place a month before the burping incident in which the same boy was strip-searched on suspicion of selling marijuana. He was never charged.
In March 2018, Arkansas students who walked out of their high schools to protest gun violence against children were beaten with a wooden paddle by teachers as punishment. In some school districts of the US state, corporal punishment of schoolchildren by teachers is still legal, though only with the express permission of parents. Often, a wooden paddle is used to beat the legs or backsides of rule-breaking students.
Arkansas is not the only state that allows this practice in its education system. According to Newsweek, In October 2018, an Oklahoma school principal who spanked two students with a wooden paddle so hard they bruised severely faced police charges over the incident, in which he allegedly used “excessive force.”
In March 2010, the Itawamba County School District board made international news after a lesbian student Constance McMillen was refused permission to take her girlfriend to the school’s prom. As a result of a lawsuit brought against the school, the board decided to cancel the prom altogether.
Parents were then encouraged to organise a private prom, but they cancelled it. A second private prom was organised and represented to be the official prom. Meanwhile, parents organised a secret prom to which McMillen was not invited and which most of the student body attended. The school district settled the lawsuit by agreeing to a payment to McMillen and adoption of a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy.
In February 2020, a six-year-old Florida student was sent to a mental health facility under the Baker Act after a series of alleged outbursts at school. Authorities and her family said she was kept there for 48 hours. At the time, Martina Falk—the mother of the little girl, Nadia—said officials from Love Grove Elementary School in Jacksonville called her that day to inform her that her daughter was out of control and would be sent to a mental health institution based on the recommendation of licensed health care professionals.
Nadia allegedly was destroying school property, attacking staff and running outside of school grounds, a clinical social worker said, according to the police incident report. In Florida, the Baker Act allows for a person to be held involuntarily at a mental health facility for up to 72 hours if that person is deemed a danger to themselves or others.
In May 2012, a Houston, Texas teacher and aide were removed from their classroom for allegedly disciplining their pre-kindergarten students by placing them in custodial closets they nicknamed “monster closets.” Kelon Chaney, a four-year-old student at Varnett Charter School, received such disciplinary action when he laughed at another student who had been placed in the closet for acting up. The “monster closet” title was inspired by a book they were reading in class titled After-School Monsters.
In 2008, a Florida kindergarten teacher asked her students to openly state what they didn’t like about their fellow classmate, five-year-old Alex Barton, and vote on whether they wanted to allow him to stay in class. As the news made headlines, it was revealed that the boy had just been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Shortly after, Alex’s mother reached a $350,000 settlement with St. Lucie County education officials.
On 26 March 2021, Jimmy Hoffmeyer was shocked to see his seven-year-old daughter walk through the door—his daughter’s curly hair had been chopped within inches of her scalp. This incident took place just two days after the Hoffmeyer family had to deal with an unfortunate haircutting incident on the school bus.
On March 24, Jurnee Hoffmeyer was on the bus heading home from Ganiard Elementary School in Mount Pleasant, Michigan when a classmate cut her hair. Hoffmeyer’s long curly hair was cut several inches on one side to around shoulder length. When she got home that day, her family was stunned to see what had happened. But her father took her straight to the salon and let her choose a new look.
Days later, nearly all the biracial little girl’s hair had been cut, this time by school staff, who were white. “I asked what happened and said, ‘I thought I told you no child should ever cut your hair’,” Hoffmeyer told the Associated Press at the time. “She said, ‘But dad, it was the teacher’. The teacher cut her hair to even it out.”
In 2008, seven Hispanic fifth-graders at Charles Sumner Elementary School in Camden, New Jersey were made to eat off the floor for two weeks as punishment for spilling a jug of water. According to Alan Schorr, the attorney for the students, then-vice principal Theresa Brown, had also punished 15 students in a bilingual class “by making them eat off paper liners normally used on lunch trays.”
Some schools in the UK have taken the decision to ban students from having best friends. Thomas’ Battersea, the school Prince George attends, is one of the schools banning such friendships. Instead, teachers encourage all students to form bonds with one another to avoid creating feelings of exclusion among those without best friends.
Critics say the approach robs kids of the chance to form valuable coping skills. By grappling with mild social exclusion when they’re young, kids will emerge as more capable, resilient adults, these advocates argue.
Northern Lebanon School District students are required to smile while walking the hallways between classes. Students who don’t have a smile on their face while in hallways are allegedly told to either smile or see a guidance counsellor to discuss their problems.
15-year-old Julianna Gundrum, a student at the school district, said students who didn’t smile faced the consequences. “If you don’t [smile] you get called to the office or down to see your guidance counsellor,” she said. “You have to talk about your problems then. You have to or you get detention.”
In 2012, it was revealed that Mint Valley Elementary School in Longview, Washington, had been utilising a padded “isolation chamber” to deal with students with “behavioural disabilities.” In other words, the school was throwing kids in solitary confinement. Anna Bate, whose son had been thrown in there, obtained photos and posted them on Facebook, which sparked the interest and anger of the media. According to the school, the box was used for “therapeutic” purposes and children with special needs were only placed inside with permission from their parents.