The Silencing of Academia

By: Amalya Teitelbaum  |  December 19, 2023

By Amalya Teitelbaum, Senior Business Editor & Business Manager

Academia is the primary foundational pillar on which the success of society stands. It is the route for raising future leaders and ensuring the continuation of flourishing, successful communities. However, like all multifaceted concepts, just as education can be used to enlighten the upcoming generations, it can be used to corrupt. The corruption of education has a way of slowly building a tall gate, silencing voices brick by brick as it closes off the history of the unprivileged from the society that it encircles.

Gaining a complete understanding of history is nearly impossible, as it is often told by singular perspectives, and those perspectives often happen to be the circumstantial victors. Since this is the case, the amateur historian often finds themselves trapped in a cycloptic narrow receptacle of believed understanding. Unfortunately based on the trending cases of appointed leaders, past and current historical understanding lends itself to the erasure of Jewish history, queer history, the history of women’s rights, and black history especially when it comes to the teachings in the American educational curriculum.

Throughout time and history, civilization has seen the innate human right to education stolen. Academia giants silenced, sections of libraries locked from the public, and books banned from children’s schools. The act of book banning has been around for centuries. Dating back to 259 B.C. historians saw the first universal case of a leader’s attempted rewrite of history. Chinese emperor Shih Huang Ti allegedly murdered nearly 500 Confucian scholars in an attempt to control and limit historical composition and rewrite history to futuristically be acclaimed to begin with him. Poetry was also banned. For example, Homer’s The Odyssey, which Roman Emperor Caligula proscribed in the year 35, as he believed it to contain dangerous fantasies of Greek freedom. The first official book ban in the United States took place in 1637 in what is now known as Quincy, Massachusetts. Social reformer Thomas Morton published his work titled The New English Canaan which the Puritan government subsequently banned as it was considered a harsh and heretical critique of Puritan customs and power structures. The silencing of revolutionaries as well as reform movements by strict governments is certainly no unique phenomenon and a continued journey through history reveals nothing but similar occurrences. 

Historical examples continue through 1932 with the horrific Nazi book burnings on any works by Jews, Communists, African-Americans, or any other work they deemed unAryan-like. The Jewish community was further horrified to see attempts at the banning of The Diary of Anne Frank. The first attempt to get Anne Frank’s book banned came in 1982. Virginian parents objected to the descriptions of allegedly romantic feelings she expressed for a female friend and expressions of general sexual feelings. In 1983, in Alabama, there was a push to ban the book simply because those in the community thought the book to be too depressing for younger readers. This claim understandably and thankfully was acknowledged as absolutely ridiculous, and the book was not banned. 

Many people attempt to justify book bannings under the guise of wanting to protect their children and the younger generation from inappropriate messages or imagery. However, it is not unreasonable to draw a pattern between this alleged claim and its connection to banning books containing the stories of marginalized groups. This attempted act of protection within itself creates the antithesis, it steals away the protection of the voices and cries of the people from within the marginalized communities.

The 21st century has seen no shortage of books and educational bannings through schools on multiple educational levels, especially when it comes to queer-related teachings, women’s historical battle for their freedoms, the civil rights movement, and associated stories. A prominent educational ban was seen in Florida in August of 2023 with the ban on the AP Psychology course based on the fact that teaching foundational content on sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal under Floridian state law. The law in question is Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act or what has been commonly dubbed by critics and the media as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The concept of banning a higher education course involving critical teachings such as behavioral development, the relationship between individuals and their environment, and psychological disorders simply due to a small internal lesson is absolutely absurd. Beyond that, it puts Floridian high school students at an extreme disadvantage as credit received from the AP Psychology course could be applied to undergraduate universities. 

The 2022-2023 school year brought with it the banning of over 3,300 books, a staggering 75% increase from the past annual school cycle. Of the books that made the American Library Association‘s (ALA’s) “Most Challenged Books” list, 53% of them contain LGBTQ+-related themes and content. Academia has seen no shortage of queer books banned such as All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron, Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, and even picture books like Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders. With each banned book, with each space on the school shelves, comes the silencing of a voice, a voice that could have very well rescued a young student suffering in silence. Nearly half of queer youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, according to a 2022 survey from the Trevor Project. One can not help but wonder how that statistic make be impacted if students could see themselves represented in the pages of the books they love so much. 

Women’s rights was a brutal battle long fought, a fight that is still occurring in industries in today’s world. Vocal chords run raw from screaming at opposing forces, fingers thickly calloused from crafting rally sign after sign. Which is why it is infuriating for over 50% of the population to continue to see books inspired by their war slowly erased from library shelves. Humanity is creating its own historical time warp, reversing centuries of advocacy, blood, and tears. It is an act of conditioning society to revert to a time of gender inequality. The most successful tyrannical acts begin with the silencing of voices. The most well-known and outrageous case of this in reference to women is the banning of Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, banned both in U.S. states and on an international level. The book’s primary theme involves holding women prisoners to be used solely as reproductive machines and represents the potential consequences of the loss of gender equality. The book has been challenged myriads of times due to profanity, sexual content, and its perspective on religion. The American Library Association (ALA) ranked it in their list of the top 100 most banned and challenged books from 2000 to 2019. “The Handmaid’s Tale has been banned many times—sometimes by whole countries, such as Portugal and Spain in the days of Salazar and the Francoists, sometimes by school boards, sometimes by libraries,” the Canadian author said in a statement. This reasoning was challenged by many as many similar books have the same level of the respective issues and yet remain on the shelves, so it is not difficult to claim that the primary issue individuals have with the dystopian tale is its relation to women’s voices and fought battles. 

The trials and tribulations of the black community have been silenced for centuries and its space in literature is no exception. A study performed by the organization ‘Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools’, found that 22 percent of banned books had themes directly relating to race or racism and that 2 of the top 3 most targeted books have black protagonists and center on black experiences and perspectives. Authors continuously write books related to black history and culture, both old and modern, and fictional stories that often represent black people’s nonfictional reality. They place these books on the shelves in an attempt to educate, only to have them ripped off the shelves leaving the words “inappropriately violent” and “uncomfortable for young children” in the dust where the pages once stood. Books banned relating to black history, culture, and art include The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds, Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall and The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones. Humanity claims to have come so far, to have progressed into the golden age of societal morale. One can suppose this is accomplished only if society has deemed one specific group as golden, and the others as rust. 

Sir William Francis Butler stated, “The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting by fools.” The education system must take a stand in enforcing a multifaceted dual perspective view on history and different cultures. Governments are erasing history and erasing the people, cultures, and voices associated with it, and society must start realizing this as a villainous act, for history has never seen the side that bans access to education ultimately emerge as the good guys.