Appalachian State University celebrated Banned Book Week Sept. 21 through 27 featuring numerous events that were held to raise awareness of the issue of book bannings in public education, and in North Carolina in particular.
Mary Kent Whitaker, an English teacher at Watauga High School, said she has first-hand experience in fighting book banning.
“In the past 12 months, there have been seven official book challenges in North Carolina: ‘The House of the Spirits’ [in Watauga County], ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ in Guilford County, ‘The Invisible Man’ in Randolph County, ‘The Color Purple’ in Brunswick County, ‘The Bluest Eye’ and ‘The Color Purple’ in Wake County, and most recently, ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian’ also in Brunswick County,” Whitaker said.
These problems of censorship affect Appalachian, as well.
“The organization FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) named Appalachian State one of the 10 worst campuses for academic freedom in 2012-2013,” said Craig Fischer, an English professor.
In addition to the events scheduled throughout the week, Sanford Hall and Belk Library each had arrays of commonly banned books prominently displayed, including “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, and “Maus” by Art Spiegelman.
On Sept. 21, a film titled “The People vs. Larry Flynt” was shown in Greenbriar Theatre in Plemmons Student Union. The film tells the story of Larry Flynt, the publisher of a pornographic magazine, who was challenged by numerous censorship groups, at which point he defended his right to publish as falling under the rights bestowed by the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
On Sept. 22, the Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society held a debate where they discussed many aspects of book banning. Among the topics that were brought up, they debated what types of literature were appropriate for which age groups. For instance, they debated whether the comedic series “Captain Underpants” should be banned in elementary schools.
On Sept. 23, Whitaker spoke to an audience about her school’s battle against a parent who tried to ban “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende.
“Academic freedom and the students’ right to read affect all of us,” Whitaker said. “Without these freedoms, teachers will self-censor.”
Countless teachers refuse to teach important but controversial books because they’re afraid of losing their job, and self-censor themselves before a parent even has the chance to object, Whitaker said.
Bruce Dick, a film studies and English professor, said the root of book banning is over-protective parents.
“Parents who object to a reading material shouldn’t dictate what should be taught,” Dick said.
Story: Thomas Culkin, Intern News Reporter