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Students, Teachers, and Librarians are Fed Up With Book Challenges: This Week’s Censorship News, December 10, 2021

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Students shouldn’t need to be speaking up on behalf of their right to books, and yet, in today’s America, it’s students who are being forced to defend books about people of color, about queer people, and about inclusivity. We saw this in York, Pennsylvania, earlier this fall. We saw it in Downers Grove, Illinois, where Proud Boys showed up to a school board meeting, and that group, along with other politically-aligned censorious groups, were the reason meeting rules at the district were changed. This week, it’s students in Ankeny, Iowa — the tenth fastest growing community in the U.S. — who are demanding books remain accessible in school libraries.

The Ames Tribune covered the student comments at the latest board meeting, including this one from high school junior Natalie Jasso:

“Being who I am and growing up in my community and my family, I’ve had to deal with my own adversities because I am a bisexual African American young woman,” she said. “The looks I get from other parents, the whispers that I get in class — the most common phrase I receive is, ‘You have two moms?’ with the most disgusted look on their face.”

She continued, “As a teenager who grew up with negative feedback in both racial and LGBTQ issues in the community of Ankeny all my life, reading books like ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’ and other great literary works that hit these topics really hard have really helped me acknowledge who I am and what I hope my community can be and what it means to me.”

Read through the rest of the student comments, as they highlight precisely what’s been said elsewhere, but from the mouths of those directly impacted by these challenges.

More, the article itself represents what The New York Times explores in a recent piece about the things being ignored at school board meetings when political discourse over issues like masks and library books. Beyond the realities of living through a global pandemic which has killed nearly 800,000 in the U.S. alone, these meetings and the focus “concerned citizens” are taking is ignoring the reality of the twin student mental health crisis and extreme pressure school teachers, support staff, and other employees are having.

“You want to jump up and say, ‘This is not really what we need to be talking about!’” said Deborah Wysocki, who teaches 8th grade science, to The New York Times. “We really need to be talking about the fact that there are 29 students in a room that holds 24. Or we need to be talking about the fact that your learning support students” — children who need the attention of education assistants — “aren’t getting it so that those assistants can go babysit kids in the auditorium who don’t have a substitute.”

This pressure from the buzzword mafia is not only creating burnout, frustration, and exacerbating mental health challenges in schools. It’s happening in public libraries as well.

Last week, interim library director Martha Furman of the ImagineIF Library system in Kalispell, Montana, announced her departure from the library. Furman cites overreach from the board as why she’s stepped away, and as the library’s senior librarian Sean Anderson said, he’s not interested in moving into that position (or the also-vacant assistant director position) because the behavior of the board has now driven out two directors. He said that the board needs to value the work librarians do and be there to support them, rather than support their own political agendas, religious beliefs, and other affiliations.

The vice chair of the ImagineIF library board said he had no idea how library collection development worked, but he had a lot of opinions about it. According to the Daily Inter Lake:

“[Vice chair Doug] Adams further questioned the library’s affiliation with the American Library Association, an organization he sees as having a “radical leftist agenda” disguised as “intellectual freedom.”

“My goal is to disassociate with them completely and rewrite policies,” Adams said.

One’s goals on a library board should be to support the library in its role as a place to provide information and access to information freely, without judgment or hindrance. It’s not to rewrite policies.

School and library employees have been in a pressure cooker for years, with the pandemic only amplifying the systemic issues that have been ignored. And now, rather than address those issues, parents aligned with groups dedicated to anti-“critical race theory” and anti-mask agendas are only making progress more and more impossible. It’s going to continue to get worse, and we’re going to continue seeing some of the most well-educated, hard-working, dedicated, and severely underpaid people in the workforce leaving these roles and choosing new jobs where they don’t have to fear for their lives leaving a school board meeting.

Before digging into this week’s book challenges and censorship, which offers a mixed bag of good news and not-good news, it’s worth sharing this piece from The Washington Post about the continued growth of news deserts across the U.S. This matters because of the stories being missed, the issues being overlooked that are big issues in some communities but not big enough for major papers to cover, and because of how the growth of book challenges and censorship is linked to the loss of local news.

As always, here is our toolkit for how to fight book challenges. If you’ve got ten minutes or ten hours this month, you can do something to ensure intellectual freedom — a First Amendment right — remains intact.

This Week’s Censorship News

Two more important reads for the week that are worth highlighting on their own include this piece from George M. Johnson on their book being banned in ten states and Ashley Hope Pérez on what happened after her book was challenged — and banned — in Texas.

And this is worthy of a whole deep dive in and of itself, but absolutely essential reading: the dark money behind the anti-“critical race theory” fervor.