Banning books isn’t anything new. Historically, governments have done it to prevent the spread of “dangerous” thoughts. Religions have sought to do so when books dealt with issues felt to be too “ungodly”. Parents have asked for books to be banned when they’ve felt the books might teach their children values they, the parents, don’t share. Recently, we’ve seen a new spate of book bannings for all those reasons and more and the results have been interesting at least.
Because I’m a proud Texan, I’m going to start with a story of book banning that’s happening in my proverbial backyard. (You have to remember, backyards are really, really big in Texas. VBG) It starts with a push from some of our state legislators to remove books containing what they view to be inappropriate material from our schools. Following along like good little politicians, the Granbury ISD school board reviewed more than 100 books and decided to ban 5 of them.
The five books were all written by the same author. The school board deemed them “sexually explicit” and decided they should not be made available–at all–for high schoolers.
“It is without question in my mind that the right move for Granbury ISD and Granbury High School was to remove the Abbi Glines books. The material in those books is too sexually explicit and completely inappropriate for a high school library collection. This incident has provided us with a moment to pause and review our collection procurement processes and make adjustments to ensure that we purchase and shelve age and grade appropriate books,” said Granbury High School Principal Jeremy Ross.
Other school districts, including a number here in Texas, when tackling this problem have made similar decisions. However, there’s been a marked difference in how most of these districts handled the “bannings”. They removed the so-called offending books from mandatory reading lists and from classroom libraries. They did not remove the books from the school proper.
And that’s a distinction that wasn’t lost on the high school students of the Granbury ISD. At the latest school board meeting, a number of students were among those who spoke to the board about the ban.
“We want to learn about things that may not be the prettiest or the most comfortable, but we as students are entitled to complete knowledge — not information that has been disseminated,” the student said.
In response, the superintendent basically called the students and those opposing the bans “radicals” and accused them of trying to “gaslight” everyone about what was really happening in the district. The students weren’t daunted or cowed. Instead, they formed a fundraiser where they are basically shoving the superintendent’s words right back at him.
I love their drive and I love how they are responding to the situation. While I am not familiar with the five books the GISD banned and it is quite possible they are books I wouldn’t agree should be part of a required reading list or school curriculum, I am against banning books. These are high school students. In a very short time, they will be out from under their parents’ protective roofs and having the face the world. They should be exposed to ideas that aren’t easy or comfortable. If they want to read about those ideas, they should be allowed to. This wasn’t a case of being forced to read the books for a class. They were in the library. If we allow our politicians to remove books from school libraries because they deem them inappropriate for whatever reason, what is to stop them from doing it from our public libraries? After all, the threat of the loss of state funds would be a very large incentive to cave.
But GISD isn’t the latest to find itself in the media over book bannings. Tennessee’s McMinn County Board of Education found itself in the center of the debate last week when national media picked up the story about the board banning “Maus“. (link is an Amazon Associates link.)
For those of you not familiar with it, Maus is a graphic novel published in 1996.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in “drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust” (The New York Times).
Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.
The board in question objected to the book being available for 8th graders. Apparently, it had “vulgar” words the board objected to as well as the fact the book depicts subjects “inappropriate” for those 8th graders.
The McMinn County Board of Education said the graphic novel “was simply too adult-oriented” and cited the use of profanity, nudity, and depictions of violence and suicide. In a statement last week, the board said it doesn’t dispute the importance of teaching students about the Holocaust and said it asked administrators to find more age-appropriate texts to “accomplish the same educational goal.”
Now, it’s been a long time since I was in 8th grade, but I remember those days. Most of us knew, even if we didn’t use, words that could make a sailor blush. By the time my son was in 8th grade, young adult novels dealt with rape, drug abuse, depression, incest and worse. And, yes, he was required to read novels about such things and he was required to do so long before reaching 8th grade.
Besides, we’re talking about the Holocaust, one of the worst periods of human history ever. Instead of using this as a teaching moment, the board wants to coddle the students. If they were that worried about the book, the remove it from the curriculum but leave it in the library where it can be checked out by those students wanting to read it.
Of course, what neither the GISD or the Tennessee district considered were the consequences of their actions. They have been the focus of some rather negative media coverage. They have given students and their families reason to look closer at other policy decisions made. Most of all, they have given publicity to the books they found inappropriate. In at least the case of Maus, they made the book a best seller on Amazon. As I write this post this morning, the hard cover of the book currently sits at #3 in books, #1 in Biographies and Historic Graphic Novels, #1 in Fiction Satire and #2 in Literary Graphic Novels.
Hmmm, maybe instead of objecting to books being banned, I ought to ask how I can get mine banned. . . Nah. I’d rather make sure our kids–and ourselves–are able to read uncomfortable books even if I don’t agree with what the ideas the books push.