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Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Books Targeted For Censorship In Dane County School District

August 12, 2018

Here we go again.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books are now the latest to come under the scolding eye of teachers and school administrators after the Wisconsin author’s name was removed from a national children’s award due to racist stereotypes in her books.

In late June, the American Library Association’s Association for Library Service to Children changed the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. In explaining the decision, the group stated that Wilder’s work about homesteading settlers moving West “includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness.”

Well color the Association as purists with no ability to analyze and sift though the long and winding narrative of American history.  That self-imposed narrowing of awareness about the nation only creates an educational wasteland.

Right?

Well, not so fast says Rainey Briggs, director of elementary education for the Middleton-Cross Plains School District.  He emailed teachers with the following note.  “Please take a few minutes to read this article and if you still have any of Laura’s books let’s pull them and have conversations as teams to break down the offensiveness that resides and remove!,” he wrote, including a link to a Washington Post article about the controversy.

Not the first time do I come to the defense of the printed word by great authors such as Mark Twain, or important people such as Laura Ingalls Wilder.  While it is true that several passages in Wilder’s books show characters expressing bias toward Native Americans and African Americans, it is also true that a large segment of the nation at one time spoke in such tones.

Those words and the tone in which they were used is part of the history we need to know.  Literature is one way to convey for students (of all ages), through a most entertaining means, the stories from the past.  Then in a classroom setting teachers can draw out through discussion the lessons to be learned.    Creating sterile and controversy-free classrooms undermines the learning process and misses a foundation of education.  It is not only important to know facts, but it is essential that students know how to think.

Racism was, and remains a real and troubling part of our society.  To attempt to whitewash it from a text takes away the one thing that we need more than anything else.  That being a protracted and highly engaged conversation about racism.  And that discussion should start in our classrooms.

There is nothing wrong with reading the Wilder books and taking it as a piece of literature from a certain period of time and then talking about it.  To attempt to water it down or distort the story and message in any way is simply not a way to educate young minds for the world in which they will need to live.

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