Banned Books Week 2018

Banned Books Week 2018 is September 23 through 29, 2018.

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 2017, I read from I Am Jazz (here’s the recording). In 2016, I read from Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (here’s the recording). In 2015, I read from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (here’s the recording). In 2014, I read from Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy (here’s the recording).

This year, I am reading from And Tango Makes Three . The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded challenges to/bans of 416 books in 2017.

Banned Books Week 2018

Of the top ten, this book was number nine. The ALA says, “Returning after a brief hiatus from the Top Ten Most Challenged list, this ALA Notable Children’s Book, published in 2005, was challenged and labeled because it features a same-sex relationship.”

Here’s my readout:

How I Chose This Year’s Book

This year’s process wasn’t especially formal. I ruled out books I had read before, and solicited opinions on Facebook (scientific, right?). I ended up choosing “And Tango Makes Three” because my friend Rebecca said her little boy likes it. The end.

After reading it, I can say I like it too. It’s about New York City, first of all, and evokes my memories of going to the Toy Boat Pond with Tenley years ago (I’ve never been to the Central Park Zoo, oddly enough!).

I like how Roy and Silo (Tango’s Parents) were much like me as a parent-to-be and then a parent. They hoped fervently to have a child of their own to raise and prepared as well as they could. When she finally arrived, she hung the moon in their eyes. Universal parenting aspirations.

About To Kill a Mockingbird

Most people in my informal poll wanted me to read To Kill a Mockingbird. I have read it before, but it has been so long. I’m not sure why it intrigued so many people in the discussion, but for the record, here is why it was challenged, according to the ALA:

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.

I need to revisit TKaM anyway. It’s on my list.

Why Book Challenges and Bans Matter

This year’s Banned Books Week theme is “banning books silences stories.” I believe wholeheartedly in the power of stories (even (especially?) stories that make us uncomfortable, introduce an idea or concept that is new to us or in some other way expand our worlds.

Banned Books Week 2018

In Why do we ban books, anyway? Chelsea Condren writes, “The power and danger in book banning lies in someone’s ability to think their opinion is the only one that matters, and, thereby, the only one that is allowed. I think a lot of us want what’s best for children. But being able to decide for oneself the quality of someone else’s thoughts, and being able to use those skills to form your own opinions, is a skill best learned by reading. The ability to think critically is important, and books are the tools with which we whittle that ability.” I agree.

I also am reminded, by an author who has had his share of challenges (Mark Haddon), that it’s short-sighted to be even a hair smug or self-righteous about being an advocate against challenges/bans, because “…both sides, paradoxically, are to be thanked for getting more people reading and talking about books.”

Banned Books Week 2018

Here’s to letting all stories see the light of day. Banned Books Week 2018

 

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

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.

FullSizeRender (9)

FullSizeRender (10)

Who Gets to Choose Which Childhood Reading Experiences Are Appropriate?

How Reading Novels in Math Class Can Strengthen Student Engagement

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.

UPDATE 2

When I read Curious Incident during the PBS Tallahassee Great Read, author Mark Haddon sent this tweet. It’s an important reminder (that both sides — pro censorship and anti censorship — matter to the book discussion).

High School Books

High School Books

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.