(Image via dartmouthweektoday.com)
Arts and Entertainment Editor: Kamryn Kobel
Since the issuing of the Florida bill that controls which books are allowed to be in schools, there has been increased discussion over the banning of books in school libraries.
Although this issue has been a topic of political discourse for a while, it was the Florida bill that reinvigorated the movement across the country. You can read about the banning in Florida here.
The nationwide book-banning discourse has reached the South Coast area, including the towns of Dartmouth and Rochester.
The topic of book banning and the role of librarians was brought up at the Dartmouth School Committee Candidates Forum that took place on March 21st.
The candidates were asked if they thought the policy that allows librarians to choose which books to put in libraries should be changed.
The two elected candidates for Dartmouth school committee members were Elizabeth Coughlin and Kathleen Amaral.
Here’s what each had to say on the issue:
Coughlin: “I absolutely trust the librarians. They do have a checklist of things that the books need to not include, like discriminatory or overly biased and demeaning generalizations, stereotyping based on race, sex, identity, ethnicity… I trust the librarians to choose. I think it’s so nice that we have books that we can find to answer our questions rather than just the dictionary. If a parent has a problem with a book, there is a system, and you can say that your child cannot take it out [of the library] and then your child will be prevented from doing so.”
Amaral: “I believe in having a mindset of trust, and of embracing those that you put in place… I do trust the librarians and the policies adopted from the American Library Association… [Policies] come from a place that looks to support and enrich the curriculum, that provides materials of opposing sides and of controversial issues, to allow for critical reading and thinking and varying perspectives… I do support the people [librarians] that we’ve put in place to make the best decisions for students.”
However, candidate Lynne Turner was outwardly in favor of book banning and expressed her support of bans during the forum.
She said: “There are books that are concerning to people, mostly of a sexual nature, that are in a lot of our school libraries these days. When I was in school, the best we had was looking up words in the dictionary about certain topics. But now it seems like there are a lot more books available. We do have a sex education policy, and parents should be able to opt into these types of books being presented to our children. I think that we need to look hard at that situation. As far as librarians picking the books, I think it’s fine, but it should be transparent so that we can weigh in on them.”
Turner was not elected.
Turner’s response to the question about library books indicates a common misconception held by those in favor of book banning – the idea that whatever content is available in libraries is also being explicitly taught to children in school.
According to the New Bedford Light, Turner “introduced her bid for the School Committee by saying she was against ‘political bias’ being taught in schools.”
This is not the case.
The library books are there for students to access should they so choose. They are resources, and the books that are of concern for these parents are not being taught with some sort of “political bias” in mind, as Turner claims.
It is important that children get information about topics that they may have questions about, such as sexuality and identity, from sources other than “the dictionary,” as Turner and Coughlin discuss, and from educated and credited people that are able to help them find resources–i.e., teachers and librarians.
Shannon Jenkins, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences here at UMass Dartmouth, was also a professor of political science and is a member of the Dartmouth School Committee.
In an interview with GHB, she says that “librarians are there to work with parents. They’re there to have conversations. It’s not that they’re hiding anything; they’re welcoming parents to have these conversations.”
Colin Hogan, education reporter for the New Bedford Light, tells GHB that he spoke with a librarian at Dartmouth Middle School, who told him that parents are always welcome to come into the library and that there is an online catalog available to them.
Jenkins, Coughlin, and Hogan all attest to the fact that there is transparency in schools and libraries, despite the concerns of Turner and others.
Jenkins also comments on the notion of “transparency.”
In the interview, she explains how the political tactics of Republicans are different here in Massachusetts than they are in traditionally Republican areas of the country.
Instead of picking out certain books that they have issues with, as they tend to do in Republican districts, the candidates’ tactic is to create a sort of vague “blanket issue,” such as the concerns about transparency in libraries, in an effort to get books off of shelves.
Transparency was also brought up during the Old Rochester Regional School Committee meeting on March 15th.
Matthew Monteiro, a member of the committee and the one who put forth the requests to evaluate the books, says: “so why did I ask for these books to be reviewed? In one word: transparency.”
He then goes on to discuss how he noticed that the discussion of which books are included in school libraries was a recurring topic of discourse, and was a point of conflict and concern within the community.
Because of this, he says that: “it is time that these books go through the process of review so all can be satisfied that they have been evaluated and all concerns can be addressed. Let them be evaluated as appropriate or not for a high school library based on what is actually in them, rather than what is said about them in public discourse.”
During this meeting, the committee went through each contested book and voted either in favor of or against its place in the school’s library.
The list included:
– All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
– Beyond Magenta by Susane Kuklin
– Let’s Talk About It by Erica Moen and Matthew Nolan
– Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
– The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and Ellen Forney
– The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
– The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Each book was approved with 8/9 members voting to keep the books in the library – with the exception of Gender Queer, which had 7/9 members voting yes, and The Hate U Give, with 9/9 members voting yes.
These are all titles that are very commonly found on banned book lists.
The member who consistently voted against these books, Joseph Pires, said: “It’s unfortunate that our rights as parents are being superseded.”
However, Shannon Jenkins also commented on parent’s rights in the interview with GHB, saying, “Oftentimes, when the Right talks about ‘parents weighing in’ on these issues, it’s about a certain type of viewpoint and a certain type of parent whose viewpoints they want to see reflected. There are other parents, myself included, who want to see these sorts of books in schools.”
Notably, the opinions of students have been overlooked during these discussions.
South Coast Today interviewed Alia Cusolito, a junior at Old Rochester Regional High School.
“There are so many other books and movies that we’re shown in school — and I wouldn’t want to name them so those don’t get attacked, too — … that are more explicit than these books are.
The ones that are targeted are the ones that have queer characters or when the main character is a person of color, and that kind of shows that their issue is with the characters and not with the actual content.
There’s so much stuff on the internet, I guarantee everybody in high school has seen so many worse things, so to get that kind of content from your school library, in a place where you can then have adults and resources to go and talk to if you need anything — I would much rather have people get that from school than somewhere else,” Cusolito tells South Coast Today.
Again, these books are included in school libraries as resources for students to seek out if they need or want more information about themselves or the people around them.
In the GHB interview, Jenkins explains that kids need literature because it helps them see other viewpoints and understand experiences outside of their own. They also need literature that reflects their own lives and identities.
Banning books in school libraries results in limited access to these pieces of literature that help young kids connect with themselves and with other people.