Home Commentary To ban or not to ban books

To ban or not to ban books

How we perceive the millennial generation would help us accept that book banning is complex, multilayered and multidimensional

Book banning, a form of control or suppression, happens when private individuals, government officials, or organizations remove books from libraries, school reading lists, or bookstore shelves because they object to their content, ideas, or themes.

The problem arises not from a person who expresses his point of view but the effort to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby hindering the access of others.

When this happens, freedom of speech and choice is threatened.

Actually, book banning has been happening long before the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (Commission of the Filipino Language) issued the infamous memorandum.

During my time in the Catholic school where I studied, all the books of Jose Rizal were missing from our library. So when our Filipino teacher gave us assignments, we didn’t know where to get the references. And I must admit that I had to contend myself with “Hardy Boys” and “Nancy Drew” books, or the classics like Mark Twain and “The Last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcot, etc. At that time, the term was not book banning, but in truth and in fact, some books were banned.

I remember submitting a book review on the “Diary of Anne Frank” and my English teacher warned me that this book was not appropriate reading for a second year high school student. Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” is a story of courage seen through the eyes of a little girl who witnessed atrocities in human history. My granddaughter read the same book when she was 11.

“We can’t snub history just because events are shameful. Do we sweep the entire history of the holocaust under the rug? What would become of the saints and martyrs produced by the holocaust?”

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Personally, as a parent myself whose main obligation is to see to it that my children and grandchildren are not exposed to inappropriate literature vis-à-vis their age, I can understand that some books may be beyond the level of understanding of the child. What is inappropriate is, however, relative.

In the case of sexuality or sexual education, the Church’s guidelines read, “It is of fundamental importance for the balanced growth of children that they are taught in an orderly and progressive manner the meaning of sexuality and that they learn to appreciate the human and moral values connected with it.”

In view of the close links between the sexual dimension of the person and his or her ethical values, education must bring the children to a knowledge of and respect for moral norms as the necessary and highly valuable guarantee for responsible personal growth in sexuality (John Paul II apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio).

The main issue today in the Philippines is the rationale of the banning by the Commission of the Filipino Language. The office issued an order contained in a memorandum banning certain books, citing Article 9 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, “inciting to commit terrorism,” as ground for the banning.

Deciding to cease the distribution of the books in the memo dated August 9, 2022, it read, “We are immediately halting the production and distribution of all books that are in nature political, subversive and creative works with subliminal ideology that enjoin its readers to revolt against the government and other similar texts and/or books that have already been printed or under the supervision of the commission’s publication unit.”

The said memo was signed by Carmelita C. Abdurahman, Commissioner for Programs and Projects, and Benjamin M. Mendillo, Commissioner for Finance and Administration.

Among the books that were cited as violating the ATA were:

  • Teatro Politikal Dos by Malou Jacob
  • Kalatas: Mga Kuwentong Bayan at Kuwentong Buhay by Rommel B. Rodriguez
  • Tawid-diwa sa Panangisag ni Bienvenido Lumbera
  • Ang Bayan, ang Manunulat, at ang Magasing Sagisag sa Imahinatibong Yugto ng Batas Militar 1975-1979 by Dexter B. Cayanes
  • May Hadlang ang Umaga by Don Pagusara
  • Labas: Mga Palabas sa Labas ng Sentro by Reuel M. Aguila

The late National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera was a national. Reuel Aguila and Malou Jacob are award-winning authors. Ironically the works of Jacob, Rodriguez, and Pagusara that the commission itself had published last April was included in the list.

Megan Palmer, in her research about the negative effects of banning books, states that “books are banned not necessarily for their ideologies or content, but for the ideologies of those who have the power to ban.” Clearly this applies to the ban ordered by the language commission.

And with the ongoing numerous attempts at historical revisionism and covering up of the horrors of martial law, it is no surprise that many believe that the banning of the books is part of these attempts.

Fear is a factor, and with eyes on a positive consequence coming from appointing powers, motivation could be self-serving.

Teachers and parents want to protect the students/children from the harsh aspects of the world. But when the content of a book represents their personal beliefs, they are quick to classify it as unfitting for their student to ingest.

There is a difference between banning books that contain too mature content for a child to comprehend; such as drug overdose, suicide, addiction, sexually explicit material, and the banning of books to benefit the ideologies of certain political and religious groups or generational views.

We do not have to be intellectuals to see who will benefit from the banning of literature that tells the truth about the atrocities committed during the martial law period in the Philippines.

Henry Cody Miller argues that “If we do not teach students how to understand and address ideology as part of their meaning-making capacities, then we risk allowing them to be socialized into the dominant, hegemonic belief systems that marginalize segments of our population.”

Values develop as each new generation enters the schooling age when minds are molded into the next set of adults functioning in the reality of society. Banning books is stunting this process of children trying to understand their generation’s values.

What is written are stories that imitate life. Reading these would help the students through the hard realities of today’s life. If the rationale of banning books from libraries and from the school’s curriculum is to protect the students from the harsh reality of the books, the effect of the banning could hurt the students more.

Reading books can stimulate creativity and help students think differently. Books can challenge, inspire, surprise and provide an escape sometimes necessary to obtain a balance in life. All are entitled to reading experiences that challenge popular current outlooks. Banning books will erase this advancement.

By banning books, and banning the authors, the possibility of dialogue is eliminated. There is the danger that this would lay the groundwork for increasing bullying, disrespect, violence and attacks. Fostering an atmosphere of open communications is one of the most effective ways to solve issues, especially issues of censorship.

The effect of the banning is whipping up a moral panic over historical education while stoking the fires of terror-related fears.

In fact, we surmise that using these fears to ban books and literature unpalatable to the present political leadership from schools has become a more popular tactic to get into the favor of these politicians and be given preferential options in future engagements.

I honestly believe that a child who is not educated on certain topics will learn information anyway from “other” sources. These sources could be dangerous. It is better if the child gets the answers to all the questions from the books and develops an educated holistic view of life.

It’s this confluence of tensions that have always existed over what’s the proper thing to teach kids that is being fueled by politicians aligning with one side or the other. And in the end, the educator gets caught in the middle.

Even before books are banned, it is necessary that we acknowledge that we are living in a world different from the world we adults grew up in. We need to acknowledge that the students of today are more equipped with capacities to understand, accept and question the literature that is placed in their hands.

A clear example is how young children who haven’t learned how to read already know how to operate gadgets better than their parents. They are already equipped to survive in a techie world, without any formal education.

How we perceive the millennial generation would help us accept that book banning is complex, multilayered and multidimensional. And the use of this power to ban or not to ban could either help or impede the development of this generation.

If you are in a position of power, can your conscience cope with the stunting of a whole generation’s future simply because of your fears?

Edita Burgos is a doctor of education and a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Gunmen — believed to be soldiers — abducted her son Jonas Burgos in Manila in April 2007. He is still missing. She was general manager of the publications WE Forum and Malaya.

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