Access to controversial reads should be up to students

Photo: 

School administrators banning books because of their authors’ past aren’t condemning the artists’ actions—they’re taking away an opportunity for students to learn and broaden their worldview. 

The #MeToo movement has recently swung the spotlight toward public figures revealed to have sexually abused others in the past. 

In response, many have stopped buying and streaming works by those artists accused of sexual misconduct. But when considering the literature produced by controversial authors, total banishment shouldn’t be considered the only moral solution. 

A recent New York Times article explored why many educators believe changing curriculums to completely exclude the works of problematic authors isn’t a black-and-white issue. 

Filtering what literature is taught in the classroom, even through the lens of #MeToo, is a form of censorship. We must consider the implications and potential missed opportunities for learning when deciding to ban certain content from academics.

Some see schools’ use of works by authors with violent pasts as those administrators legitimizing or accepting the authors’ actions. 

But classrooms are spaces for learning. Instead of condemning literature, students and teachers should use the opportunity to start a conversation.  

If it weren’t for English course curriculums, many students would never have read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian or David Foster Wallace’s satire Consider the Lobsters.

Both authors have been recently accused of past sexual misconducts. Discovering this news left me feeling betrayed and disgusted. But regardless of my feelings, their works remain significant in forging my love for literature. 

Without those books, I would never have had the same opportunity to discuss social issues like racism and isolation in a classroom when I was young. 

This issue is multifaceted, and there’s no simple way to understand the morals around it. Merely defending the accused authors or suggesting we can separate art from artists is a reductive approach. 

Instead, when handling school reading lists, we should acknowledge the authors’ terrible actions in 

dialogue—without banning or “cancelling” the works from the curriculum. Furthermore, students should be given the opportunity to decide whether they feel comfortable studying the books given their contexts, and be provided with alternative works should they object.

Educators should take these difficult conversations as a chance to expand and diversify reading lists from problematic authors like Roald Dahl or Junot Diaz, while finding alternative books that suit the curriculum and promote a similar message.

Students and educators should be having conversations about the impact of the #MeToo movement, not refusing to acknowledge it altogether by banning impacted works. 

Students deserve to choose how they engage with these books, instead of simply being told they can’t. 

Sydney is The Journal’s Assistant News Editor. She’s a second-year Political Studies student.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.