Books with Bella: Burbank Unified School District Bans Beloved Classics


Image by Eli Digital Creative from Pixabay.

 America is formed by classic novel characters, whose historical presence in literary works have shaped our view of our country. Despite praise for these integral novels, many have decided these books to be unsuitable for teaching. Scout, Huck Finn, and Lennie Small are all iconic characters shaped by the history of America during the time they were written. It’s difficult to imagine our nation without their presence — literally.  

At the beginning of the 2020 fall school year, the Burbank Unified School District decided to ban Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, John Steinback’s Of Mice and Men, Theodore Taylor’s The Cay, and Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry on the basis of their unsuitable and racist content. Many parents claimed that their children learned racist behavior and were even traumatized from the reading material, calling upon the school district to remove the books from the curriculum. Despite the protests of a group of teachers, saying that the teaching of these hard but important subjects is essential, the board removed the books. 

Protecting our children from potentially harmful material is something parents are often concerned about. Access to violent and dangerous material is all too easy for anyone, adult or child, to stumble onto. Protecting minors from harmful and possibly damaging content was the original reasoning behind banning certain books in schools. However, despite good intentions, many are wondering if it is actually harmful to keep students safe from crucial information about the way our world was not even one hundred years ago. When it comes to protecting younger generations, how far do we go before it becomes flat out censorship?

I believe that if a young person is mature enough to understand the context of content within a book, then they should be allowed access to it,” Ann Pibel, librarian of Mayfield Senior School says. 

Many agree with this stance, insisting that the history the book portrays is suitable for students capable of looking at it with a retrospective lens. Pibel believes that students should learn about the hard and uncomfortable facts in America’s past so that they can be better prepared to avoid these circumstances in the future. 

“I think that books that have racist content have value in that they expose a truth about our world, culture, and human nature” continued Pibel, “They can serve as a warning to society about the danger of holding certain views. Sometimes a novel can reveal more about a time in history than what is written in a history textbook.”

A week after the book banning of the Burbank Unified School District, PEN America released a petition to bring the books back. They agreed that while the intention behind the issue has a valid reason, the banning of the books ultimately silences the voices and experiences of people of color. None of the novels openly support segregation or racism, and much of their content provides a window into the past for young people to experience.

Whether or not we like it, our world was and still is a racist and violent place. Educating future generations to respect and sympathize with others is one way we can combat this, and literature is a great way to put children in the shoes of another person. The sooner we know about difficult issues present in our world, the sooner we can work on fixing them.