By Carol Jago
Powerful forces are gathering to demand control over what is taught, what students read, and what can and cannot be spoken.
A recent report from PEN America called “Banned in the U.S.A.” reports an astonishing 1,586 book bans in 86 school districts and 26 states. California is not one of these states. Yet. Overwhelmingly, the majority of books being targeted explore issues of race, racism, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
"It is not just the number of books removed that is disturbing, but the processes–or lack thereof–through which such removals are being carried out," the report states. "Objections and challenges to books available in school are nothing new, and parents and citizens are within their rights to voice concerns about the appropriateness and suitability of particular books. In order to protect the First Amendment rights of students in public schools, though, procedural safeguards have been designed to help ensure that districts follow transparent, unbiased, established procedures, particularly when it comes to the review of library holdings.”
The struggle to control what students read seems to be driven by fear: parents’ fear that their children will be brainwashed. They want to protect their babies. But keeping young people ignorant of reality, particularly when it’s harsh, won’t keep them safe. In fact, blinders can prevent children from understanding what they see in the world around them and what they feel within themselves. Not talking about Bruno won’t make him disappear.
The danger is silence. Classroom discussion is essential to educating tomorrow’s citizens. And teachers, in concert with their school communities, are in the best position to make decisions regarding what to teach and how to approach controversial subjects in age-appropriate ways. Controversial readings and topics always make for the most engaging classes and most engaged students. “Argue the point, not the person!” I reminded my charges again and again.
Teachers can be crippled by curricular caution, otherwise known as self-censorship. I mean, with so many books out there, why invite trouble with a title that might raise eyebrows? Because it’s a slippery slope. As the Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller wrote:
Reread these two blogs which feature Carol Jago’s book recommendations:
Building your Classroom Library by Jazmin Cruz
Who is [and who is not] in the curriculum? by Jacob Steiss
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