Banned Books Week

Celebrating the Freedom to Read: Sept. 21-27, 2014

Isaiah Zukowski

Student activist in Emmaus, Pa. when the school board considered a challenge to "Prep" by Curtis Sittenfeld and "Electric Kool Aid Acid Test," both summer reading books.
College Student
Emmaus, Pa.

How did you hear about the book challenge in your community and why did you take action?

I went to the school that was facing a censorship motion to remove Tom Wolfe’s "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," which was on the 10th grade summer reading list and "Prep," a 9th-grade selection by Curtis Sittenfeld. I had not read either book, but I was and still am devoted to the faculty of my high school’s English department. A hardworking and underappreciated group of brilliant teachers, they faced a direct public repudiation of their discretion as educators. I reacted initially in order to defend the people who had tirelessly worked to better my prose and, more generally, my communication skills. Called to action, I then proceeded to read the books. Both books featured drug use and sex, but only as a mechanism to further develop the plot and themes. The school board member who led the motion to remove the books firmly held the conviction that such content was too mature for underclassmen. I spoke out against the motion at a school board meeting advocating the right for every child to read what they want and the right for public educators to develop the curriculum as they see fit. Our societal double standard that condones violence but condemns sex infuriates me, and that’s just this motion exemplified. Furthermore, shutting a kid’s eyes to the realities of the world severely limits their capacity to understand their surroundings. I would not be the person I am if I hadn’t read Chuck Palahniuk, Toni Morrison, or John Irving in middle school. I fought the motion in order to defend and promote the young adult’s capacity for growth and understanding.

You can get books at the library or store, why should we care about a book being removed from one class of students or one community?

Book removal in any setting sets a precedent for further censorship. I don’t always believe in the idea of the gateway effect, but I do think taking one step against our implied right to freedom of information ensures further efforts to restrict different ways of thinking.

Why do you think being aware of book challenges or bans is important to our country today?

In our modern internet era, everything is accessible all of the time. Most people can’t believe that these censorship battles continue to this day. Such debates are remnants of a puritanical and sheltered past, where immature children should be seen and not heard. But this is a self-fulfilling maxim, in which parents who believe their children to need censorship due to lack of maturity ensure just that. I think people need to know about these ongoing efforts to remove literature so that we can quell the last of the ignorance.

Who inspires you? Who is your hero?

I am inspired by community actors. National heroes and public figures ultimately owe all of their glory to the teams of passionate individuals who fight to further the causes more recognizable people that represent them. I believe in local civic action. It is the most effective method of protest and change. Ultimately every progressive who fights for what they believe in, on all societal levels, is a hero in my book.