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Losing our voice in society is a scary reality, more possible than ever before. Our right to free speech, protects all forms of expression and covers more than just words (Khan Academy). Many people have argued about whether or not free speech should be limited and by how much throughout time. There are numerous issues that have to be dealt with carefully because they affect people emotionally. Proponents of free speech with very few limits, fight for personal growth, society’s reflection on the past and solving issues.
Opponents of free speech support restrictions, advocate for political correctness and have irrational fears for young children’s innocence. The goal of our nation has been and should always be to strive for as few limits on free speech as possible.
From the beginning of our nation, our founding fathers knew that protection of our free speech and press is essential. Furthermore, literature is powerful, extremely expressive and can reach world wide. According to the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution, “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” This states that the government cannot make a law that restrains its citizens’ rights to free speech and to the press.
Restrictions still due exist such as, obscenity, promoting illegal activities, and being sexually explicit. Often this is used as a way for people to attempt to remove or restrict materials because they “believe the have a right not to hear opinions they find offensive”(Khan Academy).
Nevertheless, some of these limitations such as obscenity, do not hold a clear definition (Encyclopedia Britannica). This makes it very tricky to restrict or remove materials because everyone has their own definition of what they find obscene and offensive. In addition, it is difficult to completely ban books because everyone has legal rights to express their thoughts, and everyone has a right to object.
Those that support limitations of free have views that look ignorantly on literature as a whole. They believe that students and young children will get caught up on controversies and bad words, and then miss important themes and messages books provide. Young adult fiction can contain a lot of dark or disturbing topics with graphic sexual and violent content (Spotlight:
Parents Challenge Young Adult Fiction at Libraries), that some parents view as inappropriate. Parents would like certain books to be kept in restricted areas where kids must obtain permission from their parents in order to access the materials. Yet, these view are not valid, degrade young children, and impose onto other people.
Our country should continue to seek as few limits on free speech as possible. In today’s society, people prefer to ignore issues, however, this hinders our ability to fix the issues themselves. In Mistake to Ban ‘Mockingbird’, Harold Jackson explains how “instead of admitting prejudice exists and confronting it, we find excuses to change the subject.” By doing this, we minimize student’s opportunities to deal with bad times in our history. People being unable to read a book about racism shows the country’s progress in dealing with issues concerning race since the 1960s, has gone backwards. Moreover, we will be doing our country a injustice by keeping children sheltered from reality because you cannot pretend that bad things didn’t happen in the past. They will grow up into naive people that have no tolerance for opposing views. If people get uncomfortable when discussing some topics, logical and enlightening conversations can never occur. Being unable to deal with what makes them uncomfortable, will motivate people to try and remove the content completely which clearly violates our rights.
You cannot deprive someone else from learning from sensitive topics growing into a mature adult. Readers should be allowed to feel whatever they want whilst reading a book however they cannot restrict others’ access to those materials. For example in Editing the Classics, it is explained how, “The word ‘slave’ is not interchangeable with the n-word…” The n-word offends many people however, if its removed the book will not make as big an impact or hold as great a message for readers. We can use these sensitive topics as ways to educate children and prevent history from repeating itself. Writers specifically choose words to be part of their work and changing them would change the purpose and message of the whole piece. And if people are educated enough on what and why things are bad, they will be less likely to do it themselves. They will grow up to be aware of all the sacrifices and work that went into getting our freedoms. Banning books due to uncomfortable feelings will never validate the restriction of knowledge.
Many books have been challenged and banned in school districts all across the country. One example is Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson in 2009. Montgomery County Kentucky high school, removed Twisted from classroom use and from the approved curriculum. However, the book was still available at the high school library and the student book club. The book was removed for content containing sex, child abuse, suicide, drug abuse and foul language (Illinois Library Association).The main character Tyler remarks, “If I killed myself, everybody who treated me like dirt would feel awful.”(190). This is only one of many concerning statements in the book, yet it very important. For many students, reading a book about a teenagers struggle with depression and other mental disorders is very helpful. No amount of what someone might find disturbing content should hinder the reader potentially helping others. After reading this book I did feel disturbed, but I also felt a new and profound need to help others through what Tyler went through. I became aware of others and what they might be going through, and realized I don’t know a lot about what happens in other people’s lives.
Those who support free speech with very few limits,want to see society grow and learn to deal with issues as a whole. However, there are those who condemn free speech, advocate for political correctness and have irrational fears for young children’s innocence. It is important to admit there are issues that need to be addressed and use literary sources as ways to learn about those issues instead of restricting them. Topics that make people uncomfortable are essential in creating mature and knowledgeable adults, that can grasp messages in books and have independent thoughts about their world. It is undoubtedly clear that if we educate students through use of controversial content and sensitive topics, they will be no reason to restrict knowledge or cater to those that are easily offended.
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