A Seattle-area school board voted this week to remove “To Kill a Mockingbird” from student reading lists, just days before news surfaced that a district in Tennessee had earlier this month. This bans the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel on the Holocaust, “Maus,” from its program.
The actions are part of a growing wave of efforts across the country to remove books from libraries and student reading lists in response to complaints and criticism from parent groups and other organizations.
That includes Utah’s Canyons School District’s recent decision to remove at least nine book titles from the libraries of four high schools in the district — all in response to an email from a parent who raised concerns about the titles she said she learned about through social media. videos.
When this mockingbird does not sing
According to the Seattle Times, the Mukilteo School Board voted unanimously Monday night to remove Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” from the required reading list for ninth graders while allowing teachers to choose teach the classic novel to students.
The council acted after months of discussion between teachers, parents and pupils, and in response to concerns about racism in the classic novel, first published in 1960.
In the Times report, John Gahagan, a board member since 2011, pointed out that members were not banning the book, simply removing it from the required reading list. He said a 20-member education committee made up of teachers, parents and community members voted by a nearly two-thirds margin to remove the book from compulsory reading.
Gahagan told The Times he re-read the novel, about a white attorney’s efforts to defend a black man wrongfully accused of rape, last week for the first time in 50 years.
“It’s a very difficult book and a lot of tricky topics are raised, and we felt some teachers might not feel comfortable guiding their students through it,” Gahagan said. “It’s not just about racism, but it reflects a time when racism was tolerated.
“Atticus Finch, of course, is remembered by all as the great hero of the book, but in fact he was quite tolerant of the racism around him. He described one of the lynching mob as a good man.
A breathtaking decision
On Jan. 10, the McMinn County, Tennessee, school board decided to remove Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” from its curriculum, citing “inappropriate language” and an illustration of a nude woman as the reason for the ban on the book, depending on the board meeting. minutes. The naked woman is drawn as a mouse in the graphic novel in which Jews are drawn as mice and Nazis as cats.
Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for the work which tells the story of his Jewish parents living in 1940s Poland and depicts him interviewing his father about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor.
In an interview, Spiegelman told CNBC he was “baffled” by the school board’s decision and called the action “Orwellian.”
“It leaves my jaw dropping. Like what?’ “, He said.
Educational supervisor Julie Goodin, a former history teacher, told The Associated Press that she thinks the graphic novel is a good way to depict a horrific event.
“It’s tough for this generation, these kids don’t even know about 9/11, they weren’t even born,” Goodin said. “Are the words reprehensible? Yes, there is no one who thinks they are not. But removing the first part doesn’t change the meaning of what he’s trying to portray.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which plays no role in McMinn County, noted the timing of the news on Twitter. Weingarten, who is Jewish, pointed out that Thursday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Yes, it is uncomfortable to talk about genocide, but it is our history and educating about it helps us not to repeat that horror,” Weingarten said.
The US Holocaust Museum tweeted that “Maus played a vital role in Holocaust education by sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors.
“Teaching about the Holocaust using books like Maus can inspire students to think critically about the past and their own roles and responsibilities today.”
2/2 Teaching about the Holocaust using books like Maus can inspire students to think critically about the past and their own roles and responsibilities today. For those looking to teach about the Holocaust, find lesson plans and resources here: https://t.co/CNgiVIzUMP
— American Holocaust Museum (@HolocaustMuseum) January 27, 2022
Stop, look and listen
Calvin Crosby, co-owner of independent Salt Lake bookseller The King’s English Bookshop, expressed concern that the current wave of book bans is tantamount to “erasing our history”.
“It’s a travesty that we’re pulling out these important works of fiction,” Crosby said. “Spiegelman’s book is so impactful and the way he tells the story is breathtaking.
“’To Kill a Mockingbird’ is required reading in some states and now it’s banned? I find everything confusing.
Crosby said he hasn’t heard any customer complaints about the content of “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Maus,” but parents frequently come to him for advice when it comes to matching songs. particular literary works with the emotional maturity of young readers. He noted that’s a decision he thinks is best left to parents and not to governing bodies like school boards or state legislatures.
Utah Governor Spencer Cox also raised his own concerns about the book ban in the wake of the Canyons ruling and a similar effort in Washington County late last year. .
“Any history student knows that book bans never end well,” Cox said during his monthly PBS Utah press briefing in November. “Now it’s one more thing to say, ‘That’s not age-appropriate,’ and it’s another thing to say, ‘Hey, we’re making your kids read this book,'” right?… But just having a book available for kids who maybe see things differently or are interested in it, let’s just be careful there.
“I’m not saying every book should be in every classroom,” the governor said. “There are probably books that shouldn’t be in our schools. But let’s be thoughtful. Let’s take a step back, take a deep breath, and make sure we don’t do something we will regret.
Censorship on the rise
A statement released in December by the National Coalition Against Censorship, signed by more than 600 authors, booksellers and organizations, expressed concern that the book ban could be politicized and militarized, amid a national debate over First Amendment issues and on how best to educate students about race, social justice and history.
“In communities across the country, an organized political attack on books in schools is threatening the education of America’s children,” the statement said. “These ongoing attempts to purge schools of the books represent a partisan political battle waged in school board meetings and state legislatures.
“The undersigned organizations and individuals are deeply concerned about this sudden increase in censorship and its impact on education, student rights and freedom of expression.”
The American Library Association reports that book banning efforts continue to increase nationwide and cites as an example that in September of last year alone the volume of book challenges in the United States increased. 60% compared to the same month in 2020.
Rebekah Cummings is Co-Chair of the Utah Library Association Board of Trustees and Digital Librarian at the University of Utah Marriott Library. Cummings also has experience working in public library systems and noted that each library has protocols in place to hear and review challenges and address customer and parent concerns about books on the shelves.
“The challenges are not new,” Cummings said. “Parents bring a book and say ‘I don’t think it’s appropriate’ or ‘it’s in the wrong section.’ Librarians take these challenges seriously and all libraries have processes in place to respond to questions about content. There are times when a book can be moved, for example, from the children’s section to young adults
“But, it is important that we follow these procedures and not remove books from the shelves until they have gone through the processes and been assessed fairly.”
Cummings said that in his experience, and generally speaking, censorship efforts focused on literary works have not necessarily had a partisan element, but sees much of the recent book challenge campaign as a reflection of the current political polarization. This includes, she noted, social media-focused campaigns to seek out and limit access to certain books.
Cummings encourages parents to use their librarians as both sources of information and problem solvers when it comes to content questions for young readers. But she also noted that when it comes to assessing what is or is not the right book for a particular reader, the decision should come from individuals and families and not result in an edict that weeds out the book. access to this work for all.
“It’s about making sure kids have the freedom to read and be exposed to a diversity of books, opinions and historical perspectives,” Cummings said. “Our collections should be diverse and show a variety of viewpoints.”
Contributor: Associated press