Durr: Book bans wage war on English educators as legislation tightens | Opinion

Missouri Senate Bill 775 took effect on August 28, 2022. The comprehensive law addresses many topics, primarily the rights of survivors of sexual assault. However, the bill also contains an idea that worries English teachers: the banning of books.

The banning of literature written by or depicting marginalized communities is an issue currently affecting several states.

According to a Pen America 100 report released in September, Book Bans in the United States “lists bans in 138 school districts in 32 states. These districts include 5,049 schools with a combined enrollment of nearly 4 million students.

The report names Texas as the state with the most bans – 801 bans in 22 school districts – and Missouri ninth in the nation – 27 bans in 8 school districts. The report was released after SB 775 was signed into law and notes the immediate impact of the legislation on Missouri schools.

Missouri SB 775 makes providing explicit sexual material to a student a Class A misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to one year in prison or a teacher fine of up to $2,000.

According to SB 775 transcript“A person commits the offense of providing sexually explicit material to a student if that person is affiliated with a public or private primary or secondary school in an official capacity and, knowing its content and nature, that person provides, assigns, provides, distributes, lends or coerces the acceptance or approval of the supply of sexually explicit material to a student or possesses for the purpose of supplying, assigning, supplying, distributing, loaning or coercing the acceptance or approval of the supply of sexually explicit material to a student.

The law makes it a crime for a teacher or librarian to assign or distribute prohibited books to a student – or even to possess the books with the intent to provide them to a student.

While the law focuses on visual representations, Dr. Heidi Hadley, director of English education at Missouri State University, said that law is already being used to prohibit written representations as well.

“There are schools that broadly interpret that to not just mean graphic novels, but to mean any depiction of sex,” Hadley said. “They use it extensively to put out books that have been really wonderful for students, books like ‘Dear Martin’ and ‘The Hate U Give.’ They interpret it broadly to remove these books from the classrooms as well.

The standards represented by SB 775 are not new to Missouri. According America 100 pen“Between February and April 2022, Nixa Public Schools in Missouri received 17 complaints about 16 books, each citing ‘inappropriate and sexually explicit content,’ which were subsequently banned.”

Book bans are also not limited to a single school district, and the impact is often felt the strongest by already underrepresented students.

According to Derek Moser, director of resource management and discovery at MSU Libraries, “Last year alone, more than 1,500 books were challenged or removed in (schools and public libraries) – most of which were written by or about Black or LGBTQIA+ people.As a university library, we believe that every reader has the right to access books relevant to their personal interests and identity.

Hadley said she sees the banning of these books as the result of a moral panic over gender and sexual identities, as well as racial identities.

“For me, the point of these is to further ground our societal politics in white supremacy and cis/heteronormative politics,” Hadley said.

Dr. Jonathan Newman, an associate professor of English literature at MSU, said preventing students from accessing these stories harms the marginalized students depicted in the texts.

“If we predetermine what a fight for a cult of people is inappropriate or obscene based on very broad categories and very little knowledge, then we are hurting our students and our schools,” Newman said. “It’s just indicative of this paranoid, controlling mindset that sees certain types of people as contagious or infectious, and it’s horrible, and I think it has to become an unacceptable way of thinking. I think it You have to trust teachers to know what is and is not suitable for young people.

In this ongoing battle against censorship of literature in schools and libraries, it is teachers who find themselves on the front line.

“Media scholars are already reviewing texts for the age and readiness of the school populations they find themselves in,” Hadley said. “Most schools already have common sense policies in place about what is appropriate, and how parents could say please don’t let my student read this… This is another shot in the arm. eye of the professionalism of educators, media specialists and teachers.”

Hadley also said she expects it to be more difficult to recruit teachers from schools that limit the issues and related books teachers can discuss with their students.

“Personally, if I was looking for a job right now, I would look very carefully at where I wanted to teach, what district I wanted to teach in,” Hadley said. “I would think very carefully about where I can do meaningful work that is hampered by book bans and also bans on what we can talk about in classrooms and with students.”

Charlie Crane, an English education major at MSU, said seeing the impact of these book bans on schools developed her personal teaching philosophy.

“It made me realize how important it is for students to have adults in their lives who are willing to stand up for them and their rights as readers and as people,” she said. declared.

Crane also said she thinks making sure students are educated is important in fighting these bans.

“For people in power, the most dangerous thing is a smart person who is tired of being oppressed,” Crane said. “The easiest and quickest way to end it is to remove access to resources like books.”

Clara Lindsay, a junior English education student at MSU, also said book bans like those taking place in Missouri have reinforced her dedication to helping students access and engage with literature.

“I want to give students the chance to learn how to analyze, form an argument, and really help them,” Lindsay said. “Everyone deserves a chance to read whatever they want, and having anyone banned from writing is just another way to make young people ignorant.”

Restricting access to literature for all students due to the representation of marginalized groups is wrong. It is a lack of respect for teachers and school specialists who have been trained to understand which texts are appropriate for students and which texts are necessary for students. It is the job of educators to understand what should and should not be taught. Individual concerns should not prevent entire schools from accessing stories that affirm their experiences and identities.

Although it is teachers and students who find themselves most deeply rooted in the problem, there are ways others can fight book bans in their communities.

“In many ways, the people who ban books are the most passionate,” Hadley said. “We know the majority of people are against banning books, we know that the vast majority of people want students to have access to many different kinds of text, but they’re not passionate enough to show up for meetings. from the school board every month. …and the people who are trying to ban these books are passionate enough to do that. They support that.

Hadley suggests that anyone interested in preventing book bans in their community pledge to attend local school board meetings and write to their state legislators.

“That’s the job of democracy. We need to be just as passionate about the right of students to have access to stories that affirm their existence as the people who want them not to have that access,” Hadley said. “We can no longer be abstractly against banning books, we must be actively against banning books.”

As a writer, English student, and member of the LGBTQ community, I understand the impact having access to affirming literature can have. To remove all students in a school district from access to these stories because of the complaints of just a few is to attack students who already have far too little support.

Rather than imposing the moral standards of some on all, school districts should allow English teachers to support their students in the way they were trained to: by helping them learn and interact with the books they connect. In classrooms and libraries across the state and nation, it is time that teachers, librarians and media specialists are treated with the respect they deserve as professionals in their field.

For those interested in learning more about fighting book bans in their community, Pen America 100 provides a tip sheet on how to fight book bans. The guide includes information on how to report book bans, report bans to advocacy organizations, and find help.

Follow Lillian Durr on Twitter, @lilian_durr

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