Across the United States, high schools have been banning many books regarding critical race theory and LGBTQ content from being taught in schools or available in school libraries. While society may be becoming more progressive in recent years, the number of banned books has increased due to politics polarizing our society.
Dr. Kevin Burke, an associate professor of English education at the University of Georgia said, “Education is about what most ought we teach, and in what ways is it best to teach it.”
In some cases the only place students have access to literacy is from their schools. And oftentimes, by taking these books out of school curriculums and libraries this can limit what students have access to and the types of content they are exposed to.
Dr. Sara Kajder, also an associate professor of English education at the University of Georgia stated “You’re going to have a lot of folks who can access books because of their privilege, and a lot of folks who can’t. And that leads to other implications.”
By restricting the types of content and underrepresented characters students are able to access, this can have an effect on how students perceive themselves and others. Dr. Burke spoke about an argument used in English called mirrors and windows.
He said, “We read things to reflect our stories back to us in mirrors and we read things that don’t reflect back to us but to understand or to think with people and places and experiences that are different from ours in windows.”
By only having books available that reflect a single perspective, this can be damaging for students who don’t fit that perspective. It can also be damaging to society as only one type of identity is validated and displayed in the media, this can further isolate those who are different.
Dr. Kajder said “Without books that help us see the world in new and expansive ways, if we’re walking around the world just with single stories, I think its going to make it so that we have even less ability to hold multiple ideas of being true at the same time.”
It’s extremely vital for young people to be able to have access to books that they can identify with and books that validate their experiences.
“Theres something more dangerous in that the books right now that are being challenged are books that help kids see themselves,” said Dr. Kajder “If you’ve never had that joyful experience of relating to a character and seeing yourself in that character it’s limiting. It’s so limiting.”
Some may agree that it is parents or organizations that are challenging books. When kids read books that feature homosexuallity or ethnically diverse characters on their own, its not the kids who have an issue with the content, but their authority figures.
Dr. Kajder said, “It’s very rare that theres a student who says ‘you know what, I’m not ready for this book’, or ‘I’m disturbed and disquieted by this book’.”
“Controlling the curriculum means that you have control in lots of ways over the information people have access too or dont have access too.” Said Dr. Burke.
By saying that controversial content in books are wrong, or removing contreversial books completely, teaches students to become ignorant to other people’s experiences. This is why it’s so important to try to fight the banning of books and keep books about all types of people in the hands of students.
Cynthia Bolton is a high school English teacher from Rockledge, Florida. She said, “If we limit the materials students read we’re really limiting their experiences, and therefore kind of preventing them from being able to really unite a society and work with those who differ from themselves.”
“I think we do kids a really big disservice if we dont teach them to find books that speak to them for whatever reason those books speak to them.”
While challenging books is dangerous, some good can also come out of it. When books are being challenged, teachers may have to advocate for why a particular book is important.
Bolton recollected on a time where she had to respond to a parent who challenged a book that she was teaching. She had to explain why the sensitive themes and topics discussed in the book were relevant and important.
“I think it was a good experience in the sense that we had to basically justify why we were teaching the titles, and that there was value and worth to the novel.” She added.
English teachers across the United States facing backlash for books they are teaching or telling their students about may not know what to do. Dr. Burke and Dr. Kajder both agree that its vital to have community backing when these issues arise. Dr. Kajder also makes a point that challenging a book does not equal challenging a teacher.
Teachers, parents, and community members must keep up the fight to have all types of books available to students and raise awareness about how important identifying with literacy is for everyone.
Dr. Burke said “There is an ethical obligation and a professional obligation to do what is best by our students and our communities and that inherently includes teaching about racial history and injustice and inherently involves teaching about the deep humanity of minority sexualities.”