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COLUMN: Public schools need a diverse literary canon

A few week ago, I was shocked to find that “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, one of my favorite books, was being challenged at my old high school in Fishers, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis. 

Hosseini’s website describes the book as an “unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant.” However, Amanda Shera, a board member of Hamilton Southeastern Schools, has proposed banning the book due to a same-sex rape scene. 

Homosexuality, according to the American Library Association, has been the fifth most common reason for banning books in public schools. Among other prominent reasons for banning books have been the presence of racism, literary nudity, violence, offensive language and sexual content. 

What people need to realize, however, is that it is 2017 and homosexuality exists. Racism is prevalent. Violence is real. Life is hard. We do not need to be hiding these serious, social issues from 17-year-old high school students. High school is supposed to be a space to prepare kids for the real world.

I am not simply proposing that we take thousands of titles off banned-books lists across the country – I would like to go even further than that. We need to be promoting some of these books that ultimately enhance the lives of the people reading them.

Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” did not make me gay when I read it at 15, but rather it taught me that other people like myself exist and that there are real-life solutions to depression and anxiety. 

However, it was banned due to its LGBT content and issues deemed unsuitable for people of my age. Likewise, I feel safe saying no one was made a racist by reading “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker, but apparently school boards feel differently. 

Both these books are among the top 10 most heavily challenged books in public schools.

When you take away books that describe the troubles African Americans, homosexuals and minorities of all sorts have faced, schools often are only left to present heteronormative, racially homogenous books to their students. 

This disingenuous portrayal of literature detracts from years of progression and perseverance of equality.

By no means would I attempt to take away titles such as Shakespeare's “Hamlet,” Euripides’ “Medea” or Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” from the public school realm. However, we must learn to balance the classics with modern literature that deals with current, prevalent issues.

Parents, teachers and school board members must flip their view of what these topics in literature actually do for their children.


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