Librarians and Others Oppose Wentzville Book Ban | Books


Stunned librarians, parents and booksellers are speaking out against the censorship of a banned book in a local school district this month.

“I was shocked it went this far,” said Zebrina Looney, whose son is a Wentzville School District senior. She spoke to a local NAACP chapter of the district school board, which this month officially removed Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” from its high school libraries.

Looney’s husband, Donald, had already signed up to run for the Wentzville School Board. The Black family has witnessed for several years a “disturbing aversion to anything to do with diversity and inclusion” from some board members, he said.

Meanwhile, booksellers in the region reported a surge in orders for “The Bluest Eye,” a 51-year-old title written by one of three American women to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. And the ACLU said the deletion violated First Amendment rights. The organization is gathering information about the ban and investigating legal remedies.

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The Wentzville decision is rare in contemporary St. Louis. But as censorship attempts mount across the country, librarians and others say the efforts reflect anxiety about cultural change in local communities.

In addition to banning Morrison’s book, which is about a Depression-era black girl who is called ugly and wishes she had white blue eyes, the Wentzville District removed three other books: “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel and “Heavy” by Kiese Laymon. The first two include themes of sexual identity and the latter of sexual abuse. A district spokeswoman said last week they were removed as part of a librarian’s “weeding” of the texts.

book reviews

Public and school libraries usually have a review or reconsideration process whereby a parent or patron fills out a form citing what they find objectionable. The book is read in its entirety by professional librarians (in public libraries) or teachers, librarians, laypersons and perhaps students (in schools). A report is written recommending whether the book should be retained, retired, or reclassified for age or restricted (in schools).

Last November, the St. Charles County Library held an unusual series of six reading challenges, director Jason Kuhl said. Usually he doesn’t get more than that in a single year.

After review, no books were removed or reclassified.

“It’s our job to have these materials and make them available to the public,” Kuhl said. “It’s up to the individual whether they want to read them or let their minor child read them.”

Librarians talk about the work as a whole, Kuhl said: “An individual pass isn’t going to get something taken off the shelves.”

Professional library associations, from the American Library Association to the Missouri Library Association and the Missouri Association of School Librarians, have long had a unified position: parents can choose not to let their child read a book, but they must not control the other parents. family reading decisions.

On Friday, the Missouri Library Association sent a letter criticizing the ban to the president of the Wentzville School Board. It said, in part, “We encourage you to re-examine the depth of your commitment to education in the truest sense, and find your courage in the face of baseless political grandstanding at the expense of educators and students in your district. .”

He directed the council to his online statement on intellectual freedom and asked that the book be returned to school shelves.

Education Week reports that school districts in at least 30 states are involved in book debates, often influenced by conservative groups. In Texas, librarians wearing T-shirts labeled #FReadom Fighters “are part of a larger movement of teachers, students, authors and parents who are resisting efforts in Texas and elsewhere to purge certain books from schools,” the publication reported this month.

Regarding “The Bluest Eye”, a relative from Wentzville complained because the novel describes a rape of the main character by his father. At least one school board member called it obscene.

Librarians over the years have argued that only a judge can determine obscenity, and most don’t believe “The Bluest Eye” would meet such a standard.

Instead, the realistic but fictional story is considered a powerful part of the American literary canon and a title that reflects the lives of some readers. Others read it with empathy for the girl’s life, feelings and trauma. In general, like some other adult books, it would only be recommended for an adult high school student.

Zebrina Looney said it was offensive to compare rape to pornography, explaining that such thinking deters assault victims from speaking out.

Another parent, Jess Townes, pointed out that “there is an amount of healing from trauma that can come from reading.”

Townes, author and parent of two boys at Wentzville Schools, said: ‘I think there are forces that would like us to be less empathetic,’ referring to some board members who fought against efforts in favor of diversity.

“I don’t think that’s a good look for the neighborhood.”

Some parents’ concerns have “nothing to do with racism or bigotry”, said mother Katie Rash.

Rash, whose daughter is a sophomore in the Francis Howell School District, said his complaint about a book, “L8R, G8R” by Lauren Myracle, resulted in his withdrawal from college because he was told that ‘He should be targeted for the 10th year. and up to.

She said: “There are religious reasons why I don’t want my children to be exposed to sexual content.”

She thinks sexual references, even in fiction, go against Missouri guidelines on preference for “abstinence” in sex-ed classes. She believes in abstinence until marriage and wants it for her children.

She wants libraries in her district to flag all books with sexual content.

“It’s a never-ending job to keep up to date with what’s in the library,” she says.

The Wentzville committee that reviewed “The Bluest Eye” overwhelmingly recommended keeping the book. Supporting statements in his report included that “the referenced paragraphs are just a few of the passages in this book that allow us to see into this world and are not written for sexual gratification”.

The school board’s 4-3 vote to overturn the recommendation and ban the book “disrespects the training of library staff and disrespects our committee members,” Townes said.

A week after the vote, the award-winning superintendent of Wentzville announced that he had accepted a job with the Rockwood School District.

Bookstore orders

Jeffrey Blair, who with his wife owns the African-American children’s bookstore EyeSeeMe in University City, said one of his daughters particularly loved “The Bluest Eye” when she was a student at Kirkwood High School. He finds it absurd to think that adult students wouldn’t be able to handle reading the novel.

“There are a lot of books on the ‘classic list’ that deal with traumatic events,” he said, noting that the Bible includes rape.

Students know a lot more than the few controversial pages described in these disputed books, Blair said.

“The things young adults are dealing with now are beyond what I had to deal with,” he said. “I don’t think we have to pamper them; I think they can handle difficult and complex issues.

He said the Wentzville ban was “shocking. This is censorship as I see it. Like others, he said most of the challenges were around books about black people and LGBTQ people.

One of the reasons he and his wife, Pamela, started their bookstore was to expand the types of books children are exposed to: “Now it seems to be going in the opposite direction. »

The Guardian newspaper published an article last week saying that US conservatives were backed by wealthy donors for pay campaigns “often focused on work that addresses race, LGBTQ issues or marginalized communities”.

Right after Wentzville was banned, Blair’s store received around 10 orders for “The Bluest Eye”.

Also, an organization called In Purpose Educational Services asked him to help develop a banned book donation program. Local group founder Heather Fleming spearheaded the effort to donate banned books to qualified Missouri parents and students. She started with “The Bluest Eye” for February.

Another bookseller, Emily Hall Schroen of Main Street Books in St. Charles, also reported new orders for the novel:

“The surest way to get people to request a book is to ban it.”

Local anxiety

The desire for community control, anxiety about the future and the belief that books are influential are issues underlying the challenges, said Emily JM Knox, author of “Book Banning in 21st-Century America.”

Knox is an associate professor in the School of Information Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Six years after the release of her own book, however, there have been many more children’s book challenges.

“So many things are up in the air: the upheaval of the 2020 election, the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd,” Knox said.

She said, “We don’t agree on citizenship right now in the United States. What does it mean to be a good citizen? What do you need to know?”

She said it’s often important to people that community members share values. They believe that the way to “ensure that the next generation will imbibe these values ​​is through public schools”.

{div} With regard to concern for sexual content, Knox contrasts some controversial books with Christian novels, which aim to edify the soul: “There is no sex.”

His work on banning contemporary books references centuries-old Christian debates over whether a person could find salvation simply by reading the Bible. “This idea is strongly rooted in Western society: reading can not only affect you, but also save your soul.”

Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” is not about building the soul, she said. Morrison’s novels, which often include violence, deal with the “trauma and legacy of white supremacy in the United States”.

In a world full of videos and social media, Knox said, people still believe books remain powerful, even scary: “They might change your mind about something.”

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