Waking a Sleeping Giant

I am not going to lie and say it is difficult to make me angry. It is very easy. I will tell you that it is difficult to make me angry to the point that it motivates me. Today that happened. I read a new report that one of the members of the city school board had decided to question a few of the books in our school libraries. A couple of them were books that have been targeted by other right wing groups around the country.

You see this past week was banned book week and a few school board members decided to celebrate by attempting to ban more books. There is a meme going around on social media about the most banned books and most of them are the ones people on the right point at and say things like, “We’re living in 1984,” or, “Now we’re burning books,” when everyone expresses the thought that perhaps racism doesn’t have a place in polite discourse. The real list of the most challenged books in 2021 is a list of books dealing with issues like racism and gender identity.

One of the books our school board member wanted banned was by Toni Morrison, the author of The Color Purple and Beloved. Toni Morrison is an author that deserves mention alongside the greats of American literature so what are we doing trying to ban her books in the year of our lord 2021.

I will share with you the email I wrote to our school board member along with her response and my response to that.

I read a disturbing article in the Virginian Pilot this morning. It claimed you wanted to ban books from our public school libraries. I cannot believe any Virginian would wish to do this as we are the land of Thomas Jefferson who believed education and enlightenment were the best path to freedom and happiness. Listed among the books you allegedly wanted ban was Toni Morrison, a national American treasure like Hemingway, Faulkner, or Fitzgerald. A school board member should not be in the business of stifling or throttling our children’s education. This is the United States of America and all ideas are welcome even, and especially, those that make us uncomfortable. As an educator I am certain you understand that if our current ideas cannot stand the rigger of debate then we should reexamine those ideas. As a parent I do not wish for my children to be taught in a backwards community that would ban books because they make them uncomfortable. What’s next? Banning Othello or Romeo and Juliet because of its “pornographic” nature? No longer teaching Oedipus because its themes make us uncomfortable? Banning Huckleberry Finn because of patricide and violence?  Those that fear education and enlightenment have no business on the school board and dishonor the legacy of Virginians like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Booker T. Washington. But I am sure those reporters were mistaken as it us hard to fathom anyone that values education being against books. 

Thank you for your mesage Mr Huzzard.  Have you read the graphic novel Gender Queer?  Have you seen the pornographic pictures in it that were on the shelves of our school libraries?  I’m not sure how anyone can be ok with distributing pornography to a minor.  Graphic pictures of people participating in oral sex, how to use sex toys and more.   Are you aware of the sexually explicit language in The Bluest Eye that discusses in detail a father raping and molesting his daughter and getting pleasure out of it? (that is just one example from the book)  I have great concerns how these books can traumatize our children.  I’ve spoken to victims of child sexual abuse and they have told me that they fear exposing children to these sexually explicit and pornographic materials could be very damaging.  I have also spoken to a victim of sex trafficking who is very upset that our children are being exposed to this type of material.
If a student searched on their Chromebooks for the pictures that were provided in the book Gender Queer or the language in The Bluest eye, I anticipate their search would be flagged as inappropriate and they would be disciplined for accessing sexual content online.   
Additionally, according to this Virginia code it is against the law to provide this type of material to children:  https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title18.2/chapter8/section18.2-391/
I value education but I despise pornography and pedophilia being exposed to our children and I can’t comprehend how anyone supports pedophilia and pornography being used to “educate” our children.  

I’m sorry to hear that you do lack an open mind. As a member of the school board your job is to look out for the well being of all students. Even those whose lifestyles you disagree with. Gender Queer is a coming of age story about how a young person struggles with their identity. I was once a preteen and a teenager and I was able to understand sexually graphic material within the overall context of the story it told. A book like Gender Queer could be a great help to preteens and teens struggling with their own identity. It’s good you’ve talked with abuse victims and perhaps a trigger warning is appropriate for those triggered by such content. I mentioned Romeo and Juliet previously. I’m certain you are aware that she was only 14 in that play. I’m also certain you’re deeply disturbed by WB Yeats poem Leda and the Swan that describes the rape of Leda at the hands of Zues. Or how about the Iliad with the murder of Ifigenia at the hands of her father and the countless other rapes Agamemnon was guilty of. What about the story of Isaac and Abraham where a father tricks his child to follow him to the top of a mountain so that he can be slaughtered as a burnt offering? Do these stories deeply disturb you as well. It sounds to me like you’re against literature as a whole and as a parent I will be sharing your response online and doing everything I can to remove you from the school board. I want my children learning in an open and accepting environment. Not from a backwards and close minded one.

As you can tell this school board member seems to not understand context as well as what a book contains vs what it condones. If books condoned every bad action contained with in them then every murder mystery on the shelves would condone murder. It is crazy to me that a person serving on the school board of a city in the United States in 2021 would be for the banning of books. Especially when anytime a private publisher decides to pull a book for outdated racial terms they throw a hissy fit and quote books they haven’t read.

It is time to call a fool a fool and suffer them no longer. Our society is better than this.

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