Vonnegut Library Donates Banned Book to Missouri High School Students

Sep 06, 2011

Do schools have the right to yank books from reading lists and libraries simply because they don't like the content? Though the U.S. Constitution says no, some schools still take part in the practice. In the most recent episode, a Missouri high school voted to ban a classic novel because of its adult themes and profane content. But the book may soon find its way into the students' hands anyway, thanks to the efforts of a library with more than a passing interest in the banned title.

By Harrison Howe

banned

Library Gives Banned Book a Second Chance

In 1982, a New York school district attempted to ban Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five; Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote at the time that schools could not remove books based on personal dislikes of the ideas presented, with the removal of the books in question leading school boards to 'prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.'

Slaughterhouse-Five, published in 1969, is Vonnegut's classic novel, part science fiction and part war commentary, focusing on the bombing of Dresden in World War II as seen through the eyes of an American prisoner of war. While its profanity and themes have been called more suitable for older audiences, many high schools across the country include the title in their curricula or stock it on their library shelves.

Not so for a high school in Republic, Missouri. In July 2011, the school's board voted to ban the book following the petition of Missouri State University professor Wesley Scroggins, a move that sparked an outcry from the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Soon after, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library stepped in and, working with the ACLU, is sending 150 copies of the book to students affected by the ban. All the students have to do is e-mail the library and request the book.

'Give me Knowledge or Give Me Death!'

In an Associated Press story from August 5, 2011, Vonnegut Library executive director Julia Whitehead said, 'Vonnegut always thought it was important for all Americans to be able to participate in the democratic process,' adding that high school students, who are almost old enough to vote and go to war, are basically mature enough to handle the themes explored in Slaughterhouse-Five.

In reference to the First Amendment and censorship, Vonnegut himself said in a 1973 Library Journal interview, 'Give me knowledge or give me death!' In Republic, Missouri, the words are as applicable now as they were 38 years ago. Vonnegut, who was outspoken against censorship for many years, would certainly be proud of the work being done by the library that bears his name.

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