Banned Books Week 2016

Banned Books Week gets me fired up every year, and that passion has only grown since last year’s Curious Incident Incident.

Since 2014, I have participated in the Banned Books Week Virtual Readout (which, by the way, can be done anytime — not just during BBW). In 2014, I read from Captain Underpants; in 2015 I read from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and this year I read from Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out.

I am a bit of a newbie when it comes to “clipping” passages via Audible, and I found the passages I had intended to share in my readout, after the readout. I want to expand on those a bit (the read-out is limited to 3 minutes) before I pass the paper version of the book along to a friend.

Other Important Passages

The three passages I shared were from:

Jessy, who was born as a girl and now identifies as a male. Jessy spoke about how he enjoys life “from a different perspective.”

I can see the world simultaneously from a male and a female perspective. ~ Jessy

Wanda, mom of Jonathan, who is gay and Christina, who is transsexual. As a parent, Wanda’s statements really resonated with me.

Hug your children. Hug them. ~ Wanda

Luke, who was born as a girl and now identifies as a male, and whose poem inspired the title of the book. Luke said coming out trans is “very exposing. It opens you up to a lot of mockery.” It was important to Luke to come out via a poem.

Said, ‘What are you?’ said, ‘you gotta choose’

said, ‘Pink or blue?’

and I said I’m a real nice color of magenta.

The passages I couldn’t find due to my Audible clip-finding incompetence and the ones I did not have space for are:

Wanda, Jonathan’s and Christina’s mom (again). [in response to a man who had physically attacked Christina]: “You’re not from here, right? In America people are used to this. There are gays, there are lesbians, there’s transgender. There are all kinds.”

Wanda continues, “…when I’m in the train with her, I still hear little kids say, ‘Mom, is that a man or a woman?’ I don’t want to hear that. I sometimes have to remind her not to show her Adam’ apple, and that’s so sad. I don’t want to have to remind her to keep her chin down.”

These passages about Wanda’s response to the man who had attacked Christina, and about the interactions she and Christina have with strangers on the train, resonated with me. I think it was because Wanda had an opportunity to educate the man who had attacked Christina (obviously it’s horrible that an attack is what led to that educational moment). Secondly, talking about the train made me think of how we can jump to assumptions about one another and the absolutely moronic (and hurtful) things people can say to one another when silence would be a better choice (but I understand that kids ask filter-less questions…).

Mariah, who was born as a boy but is transitioning to female: “A lot of transgender girls feel that they look like a boy and they try to fix it. The thing is, real beauty comes from the inside. You could be the most passable trans woman ever. Real beauty from the inside!”

The thing is, real beauty comes from the inside. ~ Mariah

I just loved this because …. it’s so very true.

Cameron, who was born as a girl and, at this point, requests to be referred to with pronouns such as “they, them, and their” talked about being treated with male privilege: Because I’m perceived as a male, I get male privileges. Male privilege means I don’t have to prove myself for my opinion to have weight. People assume that I’m intelligent. People assume that I have something to say. I get a fair amount of respect.

Cameron continues, “By being male, I’m automatically given some kind of validity that is weird. ‘Wait, guys, I haven’t said anything yet. And besides, you shouldn’t be giving me male privilege because I’m not really a guy — at least not by your standards, I’m definitely not.”

Why did this section intrigue me? Honestly it’s because there have been a few times in my life when I wouldn’t have minded just a few moments of “male privilege” when I was treated condescendingly.

A Few Closing Thoughts About This Book and This Topic

This book gave me insights into being transgender that I have not had previously. At the same time, as a parent, I found myself mentally sorting out some dynamics that were specific to teenagerhood and family dysfunction. It must make teenagerhood, which is already fraught with its share of difficulties, even harder to be so misunderstood.

In all honesty, though, I struggled with pieces of the book. Maybe it’s because my journey of understanding what it is to transition and to be transgender is fairly new. I do see why teens who want to supplement their transition with hormones and/or surgery have to go through intensive counseling. I heard their impatience to “just move things along” and worried that they had not developed the critical thinking skills and self awareness necessary to make such life-changing decisions.

I guess no book about such a heavy topic SHOULD be neatly tied up with a perfect bow. That’s why I feel so strongly about access to all kinds of books, and am such a staunch advocate for the freedom to read.

AND … I have to commend author Susan Kuklin for her photography skills as well. Perhaps Audible has that stuff in “the files” (those things I never look at after reading an audiobook) but it was a special pleasure to hold the pages (and images) in my hands, especially the ones at my beloved NYC High Line!

A Great Banned Books Week Video

I thought this video from Phillips Academy Andover (which mentions Beyond Magenta, I might add!), was creative!

Their summary statement echoes my position pretty well:

In honor of #BannedBooksWeek, the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library and Phillips Academy encourage students to read and obtain knowledge from all sources. At Andover we believe in the First Amendment and that we should not censor what is available to our students.

Literature Challenges

A Curiously Close Call With Censorship

I wrote this and submitted it as a “My View” for the Tallahassee Democrat to coincide with Banned Books Week. It was not accepted by the Democrat, and Banned Books Week ends today so I am out of time to try to convince them otherwise. This piece is the most heart-generated and fussed-over composition I have written in a long time, so I want it to see the light of day. If you see fit to share it, please do. After two previous blog posts and countless other interactions on this topic, this post is my last. That sure doesn’t mean I am not watching, though, to make sure procedures are followed in the future and freedom to read remains exactly that: FREE.

A Curiously Close Call With Censorship

“Never mind.”

There are times when “never mind” is an appropriate response.

For example: change your mind after asking your son to pass the plate so you can take a second helping at dinner?

“Never mind.”

However, when it comes to free access to the written word, “never mind” is the wrong response.

As Banned Books Week 2015 ends, the “never mind” which was issued in response to a few parents’ complaints about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at Lincoln High School should not be brushed off.

At the end of the 2014/15 school year, students at Lincoln High School were informed their summer reading assignment was to be The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.

On August 4, the principal sent an email stating that the assignment was being changed from “required” to “optional.” In that email, he said “I understand that the language used in this summer’s selected novel makes this text inappropriate as an assignment for all students…I am lifting the mandatory requirement for this novel.” The email continued, “ this novel will not be used for instruction during the school year.”

In a subsequent conversation with the principal, he told me that parents of incoming freshmen had expressed concerns about the language used in the book. He ultimately decided that the book “set the wrong tone” for an incoming freshman’s first experience with Lincoln High School.

An email which stated, “this novel will not be used for instruction during the school year” felt like a “never mind.”

Over the weeks between August 4 and now, I have struggled to put my finger on exactly why this situation angered me so much. While trying to figure out my own intense reaction, I visited as many articles and blogs about this situation as I could. Countless times, I have responded to people worldwide: “I am a parent of a child at the school in question. To be clear, the book was not banned. The assignment was made optional.”

I want to believe the public statements of my School Board members that this is not “censorship” or “banning.”

Here’s where I have an issue.

If this “never mind” isn’t censorship, what is it?

It falls somewhere between the American Library Association’s “public attack” and “censorship.” A public attack is “a publicly disseminated statement challenging the value of the material, presented to the media and/or others outside the institutional organization in order to gain public support for further action.” Censorship is “a change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.”

The ALA does not have a “never mind” category.

As Banned Books Week ends, we owe it to our students to be vigilant year-round, not just one week a year, and to stop ourselves when and if we inch close to censorship.

We need to know when to say, “I mind.”

BBW_ALT2015_Poster_180

My Banned Books Week Virtual Readout:

This post was also published on LinkedIn here.

And for the last word, thank you Judy Blume, without whom my childhood would have been much duller.

judy blume

A “PTBH” at the Epicentre of a Curious Incident

In last week’s post, I shared my thoughts on the decision made by the principal of my son’s high school to revert the schoolwide summer reading assignment from “required” to “optional.” I disagree with this decision.

As the past week has unfolded, and the ripple effects of the decision have expanded internationally, I have seen many reactions, often from people who will never set foot in Leon County, about what this decision means.

Status of the Decision

The decision to reverse the summer reading assignment from “required” to “optional” is apparently going to stand.

Being a “Person to Be Heard”

When I learned there was a meeting of the Leon County School Board scheduled for August 11, I decided to attend. At first, I thought I would just attend and see if the issue came up. As the date approached (and as the public opinions piled up pro and con), I decided I really had to speak about this, if allowed.

I learned that there are two ways to speak before the board. 1) You can arrive at the meeting site prior to the 6:00 meeting time and fill out a PTBH (Persons to be Heard) card and submit it to a staff member or 2) You can call the school board office in advance and provide your information over the phone. I did not learn about the two options until the Monday before the board meeting (because I did not ask earlier…), so I had to go with option #1.  I was told I would be allowed to speak for 3 minutes about the matter I stated on my PTBH card.

Although this is not word-for-word what I said, this is the best recreation I can do and does follow the outline I used Tuesday night:

As a parent who has had at least one child in this school system since 2001, I am glad I attended a meeting (and sorry this was my first). I came away from the discussion with a more comprehensive view of the issue from their angle. Specifically, it was informative to hear the comparisons between this situation and issues of appropriateness of human sexuality curriculum (i.e., (and I am paraphrasing here) “as a teacher I may think [name of student] will benefit from the human sexuality curriculum, but if their parent requests to opt them out, I have to comply with that request.”).

I am grateful to the school board for giving me an opportunity to speak.

Accuracy

While I understand issues like this take on a life (and definition) all their own once they blow up, it has been important to me that the discussion be as accurate as possible, in order to focus on solutions.

This book has not been banned from our school system.

The parent who is quoted in most of the newspaper articles appears to have requested an alternate assignment (rather than requesting the principal revert the assignment to “optional” for the entire school). 

Although there was back and forth about this assignment’s classification as “instructional materials,” at least one school board member has acknowledged that policy was not followed in response to a parent’s concern about the content of the book.

What Really Matters

First and foremost, what matters to me is: a book with clear literary merit, which ostensibly was chosen by English faculty based on that merit, should not have been the subject of one administrator’s ad-hoc action in the face of the concerns of a vocal minority of approximately 20 parents at a school of around 1800.

Secondly, although I disagree with the choice of the parent who publicly stated:

 “I am not interested in having books banned … But to have that language and to take the name of Christ in vain – I don’t go for that. As a Christian, and as a female, I was offended. Kids don’t have to be reading that type of thing and that’s why I was asking for an alternative assignment. I know it’s not realistic to pretend bad words don’t exist, but it is my responsibility as a parent to make sure that my daughter knows what is right or wrong…”

…I fully support her choice to request an alternate assignment. The comments to the articles and blog posts I have read about this incident which attack her personally are the saddest to me. And I know this is how the blog world works. I know I, too, have set myself up for being the subject of personal attacks by being so public about this issue. I know if I choose to walk into the territory of public discourse that I must grow a thick skin and cultivate the good sense not to engage with those who just want to pick a fight for the sake of picking a fight.

As I said when I wrote about Drought Shaming, “distrust among neighbors does not build a caring community.” In this case, I would amend that slightly to “animosity among parents does not nurture a caring school.” For all I know, the very parent in question and I may be responsible for jointly helping our students cope with a tragedy, sell concessions to support a school activity together, or (heh …) reshelve books at the media center together. It does neither of us any good to attack each other and it surely does not present a good role model to our children of civil discourse.

(I am also in full support of the school’s faculty and principal, even though there are times such as this when we will disagree.)

Thirdly, although I feel certain the school district does not propose to “ban” or “remove” this book from our library shelves or digital content, I am uneasy at the whiff of the idea that it could ever happen. I really hope my fellow Leon County parents and literature lovers are with me on this one.

Fourthly, here is why it matters to spend three minutes publicly defending one book. It is important to spend three minutes publicly defending one book because, although I believe what I said above in my third point, the erosion of intellectual freedom does not usually start by a flood, it starts by a trickle.

Erosion can begin by saying “you have to register” if you are Jewish.

Erosion can begin by saying “you have to count the soap bubbles” to vote.

Erosion can begin by saying “because you are a female, you have less right to education than a male does.”

It matters to to put one sandbag in place to make it less likely that freedom to think will wash away.

To Learn More

Links to articles and posts about this issue:

Tallahassee Democrat (8/9/15): Dropped Assignment Raises Questions About Book Banning

Tallahassee Democrat (8/10/15):  Tuesday Feedback

Los Angeles Times (8/11/15): Parents Object, Florida School Drops ‘Curious Incident’ Novel

National Coalition Against Censorship (8/11/15): “Curious” Censorship in Tallahassee High School

Palm Beach Post (8/12/15): Fla. high school ignites controversy over banned summer reading book

The Guardian (8/12/15): Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Pulled from Children’s Reading List

Paste Magazine (8/12/15): Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Banned for “Swearing” at Florida High School

Tallahassee Democrat (8/13/15): After Book Controversy, LCS Reviews Policies

Time Magazine (8/13/15): The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Pulled from School Reading List

Raw Story (8/13/15): Florida Principal Tries to Quietly Ban Book to Appease Christians, Sets Off Sh*tstorm Instead

BannedBooksWeek.org (8/13/15): ‘Curious’ Censorship in Tallahassee High School

Tallahassee Democrat Editorial (8/14/15): Our Opinion: Wrong Lesson Learned

National Post (8/14/15): Mark Haddon’s Beloved The Curious Incident Banned from Florida High School 

Tallahassee Democrat “My View” (8/18/15): Book Controversy Brings Opportunity for Learning

Twitter activity sharing a flyer being circulated at Lincoln:

LHS Posting

Galley Cat (8/18/15): The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Gets Banned at a Florida High School

Tallahassee Democrat “My View” (8/21/15): Problem Was Original Book Assignment, Not Its Removal

Tallahassee Democrat “My View” (8/24/15): A Curious Incident of Censorship

Readout Video (9/24/15): BBW Virtual Readout: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time 

Spin Sucks Guest Post (9/28/15): A Book Challenge: Why Banned Books Week Matters

My Final Blog Post on This Topic (10/3/15): A Curiously Close Call With Censorship

“My View” which mentions the “Curious” incident (11/7/15): Times Changing, Love of Libraries Remains 

The Author Cafe (11.29.15): What Do You Do When a Book is Banned?

Curious Incident identified as one of the ten most challenged books of 2015: Top ten frequently challenged books lists of the 21st century.

The Curious Incident featured on Page 44 of “Pieces of Us,” the 2015-16 Lincoln High School yearbook.

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Who Gets to Choose Which Childhood Reading Experiences Are Appropriate?

The Summer Reading assignments for the 2016-17 school year can be found here.

In Closing

A few months ago, I had to do a Toastmasters project called “Speaking Under Fire.” The objective of the speech was “dispel hostility and convince them that your side has some merit.” Our instructions included, “Select a generally unpopular point of view – perhaps one that you also oppose – in order to assure opposition.” The title of my speech was “My Unvaccinated Child is Just Fine Thank You.” Since I am a Shot at Life champion, this choice was definitely a stark contrast to my true beliefs. I pretended I was a pregnant anti-vaxxer speaking to a room full of pediatricians. It was difficult but the process of being in that woman’s shoes informed my approach. It didn’t change my beliefs, but it forced me to try to understand, on a very personal level, what her fears were and how they influenced her beliefs. The most eye-opening component was the understanding that this woman felt the way she did (and bought into misinformation the way she did) out of love for her child. We all want the best for our children.

Honestly, if I tried to do the same with this incident, I would struggle. I do feel strongly that decision which was made was the wrong one, that this book has particular literary value, and that proper procedures should have been followed at the school level.

Were my three PTBH minutes enough to make a difference? I do not immediately know, but my stubborn ounces begged to be heard …

(To One Who Doubts the Worth of
Doing Anything If You Can’t Do Everything)

You say the Little efforts that I make
will do no good: they never will prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where Justice hangs in balance.

I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.

– bonaro w. overstreet

(But Wait, You Explained “PTBH” But What is the Reference to the Epicentre?)

For all my frustration at people who don’t live here, who have commented on this issue publicly, lumping all Tallahasseeans together, even the one who lumped us all in as “Silly Americans,” I appreciate author Mark Haddon’s tweet (he did the same for another local parent’s blog).

High School Books

Hundreds of commenters in an international audience have opinions. All I know from my little spot at the epicentre is precisely where my “stubborn ounces” are going to go: toward making sure the one student I have responsibility for has unfettered access to books which matter.

UPDATE:

I observed this in the recent school newsletter (January 2016):

LINCOLN READING edited

Because the resolution of the picture is slightly poor, here’s the text: “At our recent School Advisory Council Meeting, the committee proposed and approved new school procedures for major readings and attached assignments, with an emphasis on summer reading. These procedures outline the responsibility of the faculty to submit potential texts, accompanying assignments, and an alternative assignment to a Reading Committee. The committee will include a group of stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, parents, and students.The committee’s final recommendation will be submitted to the principal for review each year.It is our goal that these new procedures will honor the intent of reading assignments by our faculty while meeting the expectations of all stakeholders.

High School Books