Friday, August 12, 2022

U.S. public school libraries pressured to remove certain books

Public school districts in several U.S. states struggle with – and in some cases, they endorse – demands by small but vocal groups of parents to get rid of school libraries of certain books on sexual minorities and racism in America. The desire of some parents to protect students from what they see as immoral, sexually explicit, or racially contentious content elicits sharp reaction from defenders of the free flow of ideas and information.

Campaigns to ban books in schools are nothing new. Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbirdboth of which are considered literary masterpieces despite containing racist language are among the many books that have been debated for decades.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee is considered a literary masterpiece despite containing racist language, and is one of the books that has been controversial for decades. (Courtesy of Penguin Books)

But recent months have seen an explosion of battles over what school libraries may and may not offer students. Dozens of books dealing with sexual orientation, gender identity, and racism in America have landed in the sights of outraged parents.

According to the American Library Association, there has been a dramatic surge in “book challenges”: when an individual or group argues that a book should be removed from library shelves because of its contents.

“We get several challenge reports every day. The volume is just unprecedented,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. The ALA has detected more than 150 censorship incidents in the past year.

At the top of the ALA list for the past few years is Melissa (previously published as George) by Alex Giro, a story about a transgender girl’s quest to confirm her identity.

a ‘struggle for freedom’

The debates place social conservatives demanding book removal often against a more liberal-minded contingent who thinks the ban on books, including those for young people, is in conflict with America’s constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

In fact, both sides claim to be fighting for freedom. The Moms for Liberty group seeks to empower parents to take control of what their children are taught and can otherwise learn at school.

When it comes to removing books from library shelves, Tiffany Justice, co-founder of Moms for Liberty, noted that some states have obscenity and pornography laws that protect minors from sexually explicit material.

“The mothers do not want pornography in schools,” she told VOA.

Justice, for example, denounced what she called “extremely graphic material” Not All Boys Are Blue: A Memoir Manifesto by George M. Johnson, whose book Growing Up as a Gay Black Man explores and includes descriptions of sexual relationships. Critically Awarded and a New York Times bestseller, the book has been removed from school libraries in several US states.

“We are not saying that books like this should not be written,” Justice said, “but the public school library is not the place for them.”

Others are loudly against taking books off the shelves, calling it censorship of ideas.

“Parents have the right to influence what their children read,” said Nora Pelizzari, communications director for the National Coalition Against Censorship. “But it is not a parent’s right to determine what another child may discover in a library.”

Stacy Langton begs to disagree.

“Total freedom and permissiveness contradict your duty as a parent to protect your children,” said Langton, a mother who lives outside Washington in Fairfax County, Virginia.

At a local school board meeting, Langton argued that some books are harmful to children and have no place in school libraries. She asked for the removal of Maia Kobabe’s illustrated book, Gender Queer: A Memoir, of Fairfax County schools. The book, which focuses on the author’s search for gender identity, tells a story through drawings, some of which depict sexuality.

Langton, who says her mother is a lesbian, told VOA: “I do not care that this book portrays gay or whatever. It is pornography and not suitable for children.”

Langton added that exposing young people to LGBTQ images could be part of a “care process” that encourages homosexual behavior.

After being pulled out of Fairfax County school libraries, Gender Queer was brought back on the shelves after a review committee concluded it is not obscene.

The episode is part of a larger trend of conservative-minded parents trying to dictate what is available to a school district’s student body, according to the ALA’s Caldwell-Stone, who notes that LGBTQ-themed books have been controversial for decades. .

"Heather has two moms," first published in 1989, was one of the first books challenged and banned in some school districts.  (Courtesy of Candlewick Press)

“Heather Has Two Mommies,” first published in 1989, was one of the first books to be challenged and banned in some school districts. (Courtesy of Candlewick Press)

Heather has two moms, first published in 1989, was one of the first books challenged and banned in some school districts. Written for primary school students, it depicts a child being raised by a same-sex couple and having no sexual content. But some people have condemned the portrayal of a non-traditional family structure as obscene.

Kate Miller, a parent with school-going children in Naperville, Illinois, thinks that school libraries should highlight many different points of view, even some parents may not like.

“Banning books limits our children’s education and development,” she said. “It prevents children from learning about themselves and people who are different from them.”

Others insist there is a line to be drawn.

“Banning books should be used as sparingly as possible,” but some are just too graphic, said Carrie Lukas, president of the Independent Women’s Forum. She is not against all books with sexual content, she said, but they should be age-appropriate.

Emily Phillips Galloway, an assistant professor of education at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, sees a growing disruption of what should be a partnership between parents and teachers over school curricula.

“Many book ban challenges are about whether teachers get the support to teach certain topics,” she said. “There should be ongoing discussions with parents and educators about how to teach these complex topics.”

Books on racism targeted

The disagreement extends to past and present race-based issues that have become emotionally and politically charged for many in the Black Lives Matter era.

Author Christopher Noxon "Good Trouble: Lessons from the Civil Rights Playbook" was withdrawn from public schools in Virginia Beach, Virginia, for several months in 2021.  (Courtesy of Christoper Noxon)

Author Christopher Noxon’s “Good Trouble: Lessons from the Civil Rights Playbook” was pulled from public schools in Virginia Beach, Virginia for a few months in 2021. (Courtesy of Christoper Noxon)

Author Christopher Noxon told VOA he was stunned when his book Good Trouble: Lessons from the Civil Rights Playbook was withdrawn from public schools in Virginia Beach, Virginia, for five months. Noxon, who is white, said he “talked to people who were part of this incredible movement” and then wrote the book from his perspective.

“I think it was targeted as offensive by conservative groups who did not like the content because it re-established civil rights as a current issue,” he said, and not just as something America tackled in the 1950s and ’60s. not.

But what some see as books and curricula that legally underscore contemporary discrimination and inequalities in America, others see as destructively divisive.

Elana Fishbein, founder of the group No Left Turn, is concerned about what she calls hateful and racist books and concepts taught in public schools.

“We object to teaching children to look at each other first through race,” she said.

Pelizzari of the National Coalition Against Censorship said those who want to ban books form a loud minority.

“Most parents do not agree to remove books from schools simply because you do not like them,” she said.

But Justice of Moms for Liberty is not going to give up.

“I will fight to the death to protect the innocence of my own children,” she said.

This article is republished from – Voa News – Read the – original article.

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