Book Burning Lives (Figuratively at least)

There’s not much I don’t like about my home state. Texas is large, loud and proud. Family is important. Making your own way is as well. So is being your own person. But, there are things I don’t like. The thing topping my list this morning is a trend we’re seeing in our public schools of pulling any book from classrooms and school libraries that anyone objects to and then deciding at some point in the future if it is appropriate or not. Yes, I do many objections from anyone and those objections only have to number one. So a single person objects to a book and it is pulled until it can be reviewed. Welcome to the state of intolerance.

Don’t get me wrong. Some books shouldn’t be mandatory reading for certain age groups. But this trend of bending over backwards to appease–or silence–folks who don’t like something is getting out of hand.

For example, school started in a local district yesterday. The day before (iirc, it may have been yesterday) someone from the main administration office emailed the principals of the various schools in the district. They had that day and that day only to remove a list of books from classrooms and their school library. Then they were to secure the books and email this administrator back with confirmation of the removal. Included are Toni Morrison’s first book, The Bluest Eye, which also won the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Bible. The objections to both are pretty much the same: sex, violence, racism, etc.

An article in the Dallas Morning News makes it clear the district, like so many others, is more worried about making the objections go away than they are about determining if there is any validity in the objections, especially in light of how or why a book might be used in the classroom. In the local case, the books in question had already been objected to, reviewed and returned to the classroom or library. But there are new rules and they have to be reviewed again–even though no new objections have been raised.

Two issues here, at least for me. The first is the assumption these books violate the new rules. If that’s the case, it sounds an awful lot like the administration crafted the new rules to appease the few parents and outsiders–yes, outsiders, because we have politicians from all over taking up the call to police our school classrooms and libraries to prevent our poor little kiddoes from reading anything they don’t agree with–and ban these books out of hand.

My second concern is that the administration waited until school started to issue the order to remove the books and then gave the schools only a day to do so. If you’ve never been a teacher or school administrator, trust me when I say the day before and the first day of school are packed with more than enough to do. Having something like this suddenly thrust in your face is beyond the pale.

But here’s something these parents and politicians who are trying to police our kids’ reading fail to consider. They want rules and laws passed so our kids don’t read about violence or sex or whatever. Those same rules can, when put into place, be used to challenge books or documents they feel are perfectly acceptable for little Johnny.

For example, how long before someone challenges not only the inclusion of the Declaration of Independence in our school libraries and classrooms? It can be challenged on the basis of religion. Or, more precisely, its lack on inclusion of other religions other than Christianity.

It can be challenged on the lack of inclusivity of women and all non-binary peoples. Remember the phrase “all men are created equal”.

It can be challenged for encouraging the overthrow of a government if people don’t like it.

I could go on but, hopefully, you get my drift. No matter how foolish you or I view such challenges, there is going to be someone out there who agrees with those challenges and under the policies of so many school districts these days, any copies of the Declaration and books that include it could be removed from classrooms and school libraries with the filing of just one challenge. It would then be weeks or months before those books and copies could be returned.

If they were returned because who knows how the review group would view it in the face of today’s climate.

Think about the challenges to history and government teachers if they can’t teach the Declaration in class.

When do we say enough is enough?

Do I believe every book should be made available for a child to read? Hell yes.

But there is a caveat.

I do not believe every book is appropriate as mandatory reading. I’ve documented here and on Mad Genius Club when I protested a book that was inappropriate for the age it was assigned. A fourth grader should not be required to read a novel that includes a very graphic rape scene. But I also believe parents have a duty to know what their kids are reading and to guide them on non-required reading. I do not believe my neighbor has the right to decide what my child reads on his own. Nor do I believe we should be pulling books–or anything else–based on a single objection, especially if that objection comes from a politician, special interest group, or someone from outside of my school district.

I guess I’m looking at this from my own perspective. My parents encouraged me to read. They encouraged me to read a wide variety of things, fiction and non-fiction. They made time to find out what I was reading and discuss it with me. That not only let them answer questions about what I read but to tell me their thoughts on it. They did not look at school as a form of babysitting and parenting. It was a place I went to learn. Reading was one of the most important ways to learn. To do so meant reading about things that were often uncomfortable, especially as I grew up.

This is kind of a long-winded way of saying I’m tired of one voice determining whether or not a book should be made available as supplementary reading through a school library. Just because I might agree with the objection doesn’t mean the book should be removed from the shelves. It is a very slippery slope we get on when we start allowing this to happen because the day will come when those same objections we might have are put to use against books we agree with.

Instead, for non-required reading, parents need to be involved. They need to talk about the books and what their themes and “messages” are with their kids. Most of all, we need to stop bending knee to objections by those who do not live in our school districts, by those who hold political office and are using these objections to score political points and to those special interest groups from outside who are simply trying to silence points of view different from their own.

End rant.

Featured Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

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