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Challenged Books are a Valuable Challenge

Challenged Books are a Valuable Challenge

    Growing up in Adventism can numb you to censorship, making the banning of books or other materials seem commonplace. After recently reading the Office for Intellectual Freedom’s list of most challenged books in 2016, I was doubly shocked. The English major and avid reader part of me was frustrated by the titles on the list, many of which contain stories and topics that I think are worthwhile, despite any potentially controversial material. But, paradoxically, the Adventist part of me was shocked that there weren’t more familiar titles on the list. Having gone to Seventh-day Adventist schools for the entirety of my educational career, I’m used to books being banned, to literature classrooms with only a few volumes on the shelves, to hiding books so my teachers and deans didn’t see them.

The books in my classrooms growing up were selected from Adventist Book Store shelves, providing a smattering of Christian historical fiction, Christian mysteries, and religious texts. Many time books are censored by omitting them from classroom libraries and other places where students can typically access books. Fantasy, science fiction and most modern realistic fiction was frowned upon at best and outright banned at worst. And while I never actually had any book confiscated, it was a close thing. As a result, I spent much of my young adulthood switching book covers and writing down subtitles on reading logs (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban became simply The Prisoner of Azkaban and no one was the wiser). My experience in an Adventist high school was that when I was reading books that really interested me I felt the need to hide them from most of my teachers. Instead of fostering positive reading communities where people can discuss challenging texts, I and my peers have often felt that we have to keep things under wraps. People claim that non-religious books aren’t edifying enough, waste time, or have the potential to confuse or deceive young people about what is true or good. However, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of foundation in fact for these assumptions. Tests and studies, such as Cor Aarnoutse and Jan van Leeuwe’s 1998 research and Fatma Susar Kırmızı’s 2010 research, establish strong connections between reading frequency and reading comprehension, indicating that time spent pleasure reading (at least 30 minutes a day) has greater effect on reading skills and critical thinking than the types of books read. Research conducted and collected by the National Endowment for the Arts also shows that students who regularly engage in leisure reading have notably higher scores in math, social studies and other classes as well, showing that the comprehension and thinking skills built by pleasure reading transfer to other subjects, presumably including religious studies. When we deny young people the right to choose from a broad range of reading material to find books that they love, we risk stunting their ability to think critically, in essence making them into the very sort of people parents, pastors,and teachers are worried about, the sort that have the potential to be confused or deceived when they encounter persuasive messages.

As college students we no longer have as many people looking over our shoulders to approve our reading material, but we often practice self-censorship. Having grown up reading from a limited range of books we might not wander into genres or choose books from authors that we had been turned away from in younger years. However, it’s crucial to intellectual growth to read regularly, so search around and find books that catch your interest. Beyond enjoyment, regular reading from any genre makes you a sharper thinker, bestowing crucial tools in a time when there is so much controversy and differing voices in the media, in our churches and in our families. Adventism is founded on the importance of critical thinking and deep reading, which is why we have such a strong focus on education, resulting in many fine elementary schools, academies and colleges, but I believe that the Adventist educational system needs to strengthen its focus on reading and open doors so that a greater variety of books are available to students, building skills that will result in a deeper understanding of Scripture and of the world around us. On a practical note for college students, making pleasure reading a regular part of your routine goes beyond relaxation as it likely will boost thinking skills needed for all classes and areas of life.

Laura Malcolm

Laura Malcolm

The State of the World