Beat poetry, Harry Potter and Winnie the Pooh all share a common history: At one point, they were banned in public schools.
Attempts to ban books, however, continue. The American Library Association reported that 311 formal, written challenges to books were filed in 2014.
To celebrate the freedom to read, as well as raise questions and awareness about censorship in education, students at the University of Florida took to the Plaza of the Americas recently to celebrate Banned Books Week, Sept. 27 to Oct. 3.
They read aloud literature from authors such as Allen Ginsberg and J.K. Rowling that were popularly contested in some public schools.
“America, why are your libraries full of tears?” recited Yousef Alghawi, a sophomore at UF. He read aloud from Allen Ginsberg’s “America,” a politically charged poem that has been historically contested.
Teachers at Buchholz High School read excerpts from their favorite banned books on the school’s Thursday morning news.
Toni Armeda, an AP English literature, language and composition teacher at Gainesville High School said there is a value and premium put on education in Alachua County that may be lacking in other Florida counties.
“We don’t have a banned book list at GHS,” said Armeda. “We’re very fortunate.”
The ALA also released its list of most commonly banned or contested books throughout the United States. The fourth most challenged book last year was “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, a novel that Armeda assigns her students to read.
“It’s a very difficult book to read. It deals with a lot of sensitive subjects,” Armeda said. “But, I try my best to lead the students through discussion and talk to them about the importance of reading.”
The Acrosstown Repertory Theatre put on two productions of “Banned?!” Saturday, a play that discusses and re-enacts popular children’s stories that have been banned.
One of the most contested children’s stories to this day is “And Tango Makes Three,” which is based on a true story of two male penguins Roy and Silo. The two penguins were observed in New York’s Central Park Zoo displaying homosexual behavior and ultimately raising a baby penguin together when given an egg to nurture.
The ALA reported that Roy and Silo’s story was the most challenged book each year from 2006 to 2010, except for 2009 when it was the second most contested. Eighty percent of books that were challenged in 2014 reflected diverse authors and cultural content, according to the Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Kelli Croft, a media specialist at Windy Hill Middle School in Clermont, says her school does not ban books.
“We aren’t the book police,” Croft said. “We tell the kids to discuss what they’re reading with their parents. They know what their parents are OK with or are not OK with.”
John Braley, an English teacher at Columbia High School in Lake City said that book censorship has not affected the books he assigns.
“I have, however, heard of other teachers in my district who were denied permission to teach certain titles due to potentially controversial themes and/or language,” Braley said.
Those teachers could not be reached for comment.
“As teachers, we thoughtfully think about what we want to have students read and we’ve been challenged a few times by parents,” Armeda said. “Generally, we just allow the student to read something else.”