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Keep fighting Censorship:


Banned Books Week doesn’t need to be over yet 

by Candace Perkins Bowen

Free speech is free speech, whether it’s an article students want to publish about unsanitary bathrooms or a book for an English class that delves into a sensitive – but vital —  topic. We need to support everyone’s right to access or publish sometimes unpopular subjects. It’s the only way we can improve our world.

Art included is what JEA had when it announced
One Book was “The Hate U Give”

That was the idea in 1982 when Banned Books Week first began. And this year’s Sept. 26 – Oct. 2 event is something journalism teachers may want to carry on a bit longer. Its theme is “Books unite us. Censorship divides us.”

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, annually compiles lists of challenged books, according to what teachers and librarians see across the country. Some things are clear: There’s a pattern in the topics although the books often are ones educators choose to enlighten their students and ones that can make a difference. Look at the list of the “Top 10 Challenged Books of 2020.”

This list appears in an “Education Week” story, posted Sept. 30, headlined, “Calls to Ban Books by Black Authors Are Increasing Amid Critical Race Theory Debates.”* More on that issue later. First, look at the books and Education Week’s explanations.

  1. George by Alex Gino. Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
  2. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people.
  3. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism and because it was thought to promote antipolice views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
  4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint, it was claimed to be biased against male students, and it included rape and profanity.
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of the author.
  6. Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin. Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote antipolice views.
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience.
  8. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes and their negative effect on students.
  9. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse.
  10. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Challenged for profanity, and because it was thought to promote an antipolice message.

You may be surprised – or maybe not, if you have run into problems – but at least two of them are classics, taught for years, and offering such valuable lessons as the value of “climbing in someone else’s skin and walking around in it” and kindness matters (thank you, Harper Lee and John Steinbeck). What other valuable lessons do students learn from these books?

Note some of the books are a problem, according to the would-be censors, because they have a “negative effect on students,” or “contain a political viewpoint,” or are “too much of a sensitive matter right now,” or “don’t reflect the values of our community.” 

But how better to learn about some of these problems than through the eyes of a skilled author, presented by a trained educator?

What did the Education Week story reveal about Black authors’ books being banned? Although for some there’s been a long-standing concern about introducing more diversity in schools, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for intellectual Freedom, told reporter Madeline Will, ““We’re seeing a real effort to stigmatize any works dealing with race in America or the experience of Black, Indigenous, or people of color under this rubric … of critical race theory, even though these works have nothing to do with critical race theory.”

One book on the list is “The Hate U Give Us,” by Angie Thomas, the 2018-2019 JEA One Book choice. This has also been accused of making white students uncomfortable. Kimberly Parker, a literacy consultant and the co-founder of #DisruptTexts, dedicated to bringing more diverse books into schools, is quoted in the Education Week article, as saying some people just don’t want to be uncomfortable, but “children are aware of race. I think it’s our responsibility to really make our classrooms spaces where we can have conversations and the discourse and the dialogue that we need to be able to put young people out in the world.”

Connie Fulkerson, an integral part of JEA’s staff for more than 30 years who died this summer, captured it well in the explanation of why that book was chosen: “As advisers, we teach our students to share their voices and that good journalism is active in nature. If something our students write evokes change or sparks conversation, then they’ve succeeded. We’ve seen our students cover — and be at the center of — movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo and #NeverAgain. And while nonfiction can be a powerful source of change, sometimes a novel comes along at the exact moment that it’s impossible to ignore.”

With that spirit, we should be sure our students know the value of sometimes uncomfortable literature and be a generation that will fight for continued access to books that explore issues they want and need to explore and understand.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, someday, we didn’t NEED to have a Banned Books Week?

*Microsoft Word seems to be judging content here…..If I click on that hypertext, it says. 

Microsoft Office potential security concern: 

Hyperlinks can be harmful to your computer and data. To protect your computer, click only those hyperlinks from trusted sources. This location may be unsafe:

/Users/cbowen/Desktop/Calls to Ban Books by Black Authors Are Increasing Amid Critical Race Theory Debates

So here is the complete URL.