In 1982, library activist Judith Krug held the first Banned Books Week, an event intended to raise awareness of books that had been, or were in danger of being, removed from libraries or having their access restricted. Why 1982? Because earlier that year there had been a record number of attempts to remove or restrict books that some people found offensive. By telling people what they could or couldn’t read, these groups engaged in a form of censorship that, if unchecked, could lead to the banning or restriction of even more works. Recognizing the importance of this event, Lisbeth Fuisz of Georgetown University and students from her Fall 2016 Banned and Challenged Books course worked with Wiki Education to expand coverage of several banned or challenged books on Wikipedia.
For some living in the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, the idea of book censorship may seem unlikely—something that happened in the past, but not today. Sadly, this is not the case, which is why the article on book censorship in the United States was one that Fuisz’s students chose to edit. Even today the books The House on Mango Street and Bless Me, Ultima are banned in Arizona due to AZ HB 2281, which prohibits the teaching of any material pertaining to the idea of overthrowing the government, and because they discuss Chicano Culture and contain graphic sexual content. This wasn’t the first time that Bless Me, Ultima faced a ban, as it has been continually challenged since its release in 1972 and has twice landed on the American Library Association’s year list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books.
Another book that has landed on the same list is Toni Morrison’s literary debut, The Bluest Eye, which she wrote while teaching at Howard University. The Bluest Eye has appeared on the ALA’s list three times, with the justification that the work contained offensive language and sexually explicit content unsuitable for students—a group that includes high schoolers. The work has been successfully banned or restricted in at least four school districts and has been challenged in at least four others—one of which was in Ohio, prompting Morrison to comment on the irony of them challenging a book set in Ohio and written by an Ohio native.
One of the most frequently challenged books the students wrote about was a children’s book about penguins, And Tango Makes Three. It deals with the true story of two male chinstrap penguins, Roy and Silo, that became a couple. They acted the same as a male/female penguin couple and even treated a rock as if it was an egg and tried to hatch it. They were eventually given an egg to hatch, resulting in the birth of Tango. Critics of the work believed that the book promoted homosexuality, promoted a political agenda, and was anti-family, leading to the book being challenged so often that it topped the ALA’s list of most frequently challenged books three years in a row, and appeared on the list a total of seven times.
Students and educators have a wealth of knowledge that’s surpassed only by their passion to learn and teach, two things that are incredibly well suited to the task of Wikipedia editing as an educational assignment. If you’re interested in taking part, please contact Wiki Education at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can gain access to tools, online trainings, and printed materials.
Image: The Catcher In The Rye (14353822692).jpg, by Ryan McGuire, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.