When discussing public schools and education in our country, nothing other than child safety and better pay for teachers rises higher than my interest in stopping the banning of books from classrooms and libraries. The fever about this issue seems to ebb and flow, depending on the need for book banners to deflect from some other embarrassing issue in their partisan tent, or to create a culture war atmosphere designed to roil the base. Since book banning has always been scorned and ridiculed throughout history, it does beg the question as to why conservatives seem so hell-bent on picking up the torch.
I read what can only be called an alarming story about the 20th largest school district in the nation, that being Duval County Florida. It was there that three children’s books that narrate the lives of Black sports personalities—heroes, in fact for many–were pulled from the school library shelves. We know the books tell the stories of these men who fought through racism to reach great heights in their profession.
The books are:
- “Thank You, Jackie Robinson” by Barbara Cohen and Richard Cuffari
- “Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates” by Jonah Winter and Raúl Colón
- “Henry Aaron’s Dream” by Matt Tavare
The entire school system should not be made to suffer the loss of these books because some white parents cannot accept how racism absolutely did pervade almost every aspect of our society. That these three sports figures did find ways to be resolute and determined to rise and stand atop their peers should be applauded. If it makes some students recalibrate their thinking about history and racism and come to realize their parents might be the ones who need some books to read, all the better.
This absurdity is the result of Potomac Fever that has made Governor Ron DeSantis forget the needs of his constituents as he covets the votes of the harshest conservative elements in early primary states. Creating a battle over censorship of books about racism and LGBTQ issues will only warm him to right-wing activists heading into 2024. With Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay Law” and the flawed history instruction about racism there is no doubt as to the reasons people around the country must be engaged so to stop this activity locally. (Wherever one might live.)
During the 2022 midterm elections, I became aware of (yet another needlessly contentious) school board election about books and racism. I repeat, in 2022. At the heart of the matter were two books at the Greenville High School in Michigan that some parents found to be ‘beyond the pale’. They were Looking for Alaska and Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, books that one might not read in Sunday school, but knowing schools are an arena of education for broadening minds and knowledge allows these critically acclaimed books to be totally appropriate.
Looking for Alaska, published in 2005 by author John Green, is an award-winning young adult novel that focuses on themes of meaning, grief, hope, and youth-adult relationships. Me, Earl and the Dying Girl is a New York Times bestselling book published in 2012 by author Jesse Andrews, and is described as being about an awkward teen, his friend, and a girl with terminal cancer. Both books remain on the shelves and that decision then pitted book banners against actual educators in the November election. This blogger was heartened to learn after the balloting that the educators prevailed.
When I write about doggedly fighting at the local level to stop the book banners perhaps no more incentive as to why pushing back against the madness is doable than what occurred in Boise, Idaho. High school student Shiva Rajbhandari was elected to the school board and defeated an incumbent who steadfastly refused to reject an endorsement from a local right-wing extremist group that pushed to censor local libraries. Most times all that is required to stop a book banner is for one person to stand up and clearly state what needs to be heard about the freedom to read a book of one’s choice.
For several years, I worked with the local literacy council. My student for most of that time was a wonderful woman from Iran who wanted to read with more comprehension and be able to talk about the headlines of the day. I grew up in a home where books were emphasized at every turn and given as gifts at the holidays. My Dad was from the depression era and only attended school through the 8th grade, but every Friday night drove me to the small local public library for books to last a week. He knew the power of a book. We all must feel the same as he did when raising me.
As book-banning stories percolate around the nation, but mostly in red states, I was struck by an antidote to the madness which landed in my email recently. It makes for a perfect ending to this post.