Book Brawl: RISD decides which books are appropriate
Aafter the board meetingRISD reviewed the list of books and decided that two of the books, Burn baby burn by Meg Medina and Everyone sees the ants by AS King, were inappropriate for junior high school students. They were removed from the classroom and RISD apologized for offering them in the first place. Mikulas says they also checked to see if those titles were available at another high school.
“It wasn’t just a blanket, ‘we’re removing books,'” says Tabitha Branum, RISD’s acting superintendent. “It still allowed those books to be available where we think they were age or developmentally appropriate.”
Both titles were supplementary materials and chosen by the teacher. These are different from adopted materials, which are used as the main source of information in courses after a year-long review process, an opportunity for parents to preview, and presentation to the board.
Some books that had been approved by parents were removed right after the council meeting, but were later returned. Branum says the district followed the parents, who agreed to allow their children to finish reading the books.
“If the parent has given permission, who are we to take those books away from them?” Mikulas said.
RISD assembled a committee of educators and parents to begin developing a set of criteria for district employees to consider when selecting additional materials.
“What questions, what are they thinking about to make sure that these resources are developmentally appropriate, in terms of maturity, and really closely aligned with the curriculum,” Branum says.
Committee members do not create a checklist; rather, it is a lens through which employees can look or a guardrail to help guide decisions. They also don’t want this process to become a way to eliminate or suppress the diversity of materials available to students, Branum says.
“We always want to have a range of books that reflect the diversity of our student body,” says Branum. “We always want students to have a lot of choice. We want them to have books and characters that they can connect and identify with.
RISD wants to make sure parents have confidence that teachers have thought critically about the materials they provide to students, Branum says, and that the materials will be a “good choice” for their children.
But parents still have “full choice,” Mikulas says, and the district has found that when students select their own texts, they read more.
Parents in RISD and other places challenge the books because of their content.
Gender Queer: A Memoir was published in 2019 and received the ALA Alex Award and Stonewall Book Award-Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award in 2020. But what some parents may have found problematic are its depictions of sexual situations, as well as discussions about determining gender identity and sexuality. In an interview with NBCauthor Maia Kobabe said the book was not intended for elementary-aged children, but was appropriate for high school students.
However, Gender Queer is not included in any of RISD’s campus libraries, according to an online search.
The word F appears in Burn baby burn 10 times, and the book refers to sex and drug use. The libraries of all four RISD high schools have this book, but no other campuses have it.
Aanother book, Everyone sees the ants, deals with suicide and bullying. The question “If you were to kill yourself, which method would you choose” is presented at the beginning, and the characters provide answers throughout the book. In another part of the book, a boy is held up in a locker room, stripped of his clothes with his legs apart, and is photographed. To like Burn baby burnit is only accessible to RISD high school students.
class act, the first graphic novel to receive the John Newbery Award, is available at elementary, middle and high schools in the district. It was written by Jerry Craft, an African-American author who grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York. Craft said he “wanted to illustrate the things kids like me have to deal with on a daily basis – like teachers who mistake you for another kid of color, or classmates who are afraid to come to your house because they assume you live in a bad neighborhood.”
Craft’s book was challenged at Katy ISD, among others, where some parents had objected to it because they said it promoted critical race theory (CRT), which they say is “toxic, dangerous and should have no place in our schools at all.”
“RReading increases our experiences of others, our emotional experiences of others,” says Ann Batenburg, associate clinical professor of gifted education at Southern Methodist University. “It helps us empathize with others who are not like us.”
It’s an idea picked up by RISD parent Jennifer Tidmore, who has a junior at Richardson High School and a sixth at Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet. Tidmore says she doesn’t believe any group or individual should be able to dictate what information is available to others. She also says that it is not possible to become a critical thinker without being exposed to opposing perspectives..
None of Tidmore’s sons have read any of the 17 books on the list circulating on Facebook, but that’s not because she banned them from taking those texts.
“They have complete freedom to read whatever they want to read. Always done,” Tidmore says. “If they want to commit time and work to reading, they are welcome to whatever they would like to choose.”
Banning the books is unnecessary, says Batenburg. Students can delay reading certain books until they are older. In addition, parents have the right to request alternative material for their children, and schools generally comply with this request, unless it is particularly burdensome for the school. In RISD, parents can decide which books their children can borrow from school libraries.
And Batenburg says the book bans really don’t achieve their goal.
“Every time you ban a book, it’s instantly more popular,” she says.
At Kobabe Gender Queer is an example. In an interview with SlateKobabe said the book was selling better than ever, despite being contested in several states.
JThe judiciary has weighed when parents, school boards and students fight over who gets to choose which books students can access and when.
In 1975, board members of the Island Trees Union Free School District in New York City obtained a list of books they deemed inappropriate for certain students. They removed the books from high school and college libraries, with some parents claiming the books were anti-American, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic.
The school board convened a committee of parents and school staff to review the 11 books and determine whether they should remain in libraries. The committee recommended that five books be in libraries, two be removed and one be allowed only with parental permission. The committee had no opinion on another and could not agree on one.
But the school board decided that nine of the books had to be removed, we could go back to the libraries, and one could only be read with parental permission. Island Trees students sued the board, and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1982 that the New York School District and other school boards “cannot withdraw school library books simply because they don’t like the ideas in those books. .”
The court also cited the 1943 case West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, ruling that school boards cannot “prescribe what must be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.”
However, the court ruled in Island Trees v. Pico that school boards “might justifiably claim absolute discretion over curriculum based on their duty to instil community values in schools.”
Five years after the New York case, parents in Tennessee have claimed that the content of a series of required readings offends their religious beliefs and those of their children. The court ruled in Mozert v. Hawkins County Public Schools that the school district could require students to use the reading series. Exposure to ideas opposed to their faith did not mean that students had to believe them or act on them.
National and local school authorities have considerable influence over curricula, which they can use to “transmit community values” to teach students to respect authority and social, moral and democratic ideas.
But it’s a different story when it comes to school libraries, where students can test or deepen the information they learn. In this case, the courts limited the ability of officials to remove books. The exception is that school boards may block students from accessing certain books if they contain offensive language or are psychologically or intellectually inappropriate for the age group.
This is what happened at RISD, and the lingering discussion permeated the school board election.
At a RISD District 2 Candidates Forum on April 10, incumbent Eron Linn said he was against the removal of the books, that he believed all students should have access to as much information as possible to learn about different topics.
“As a student of history, I don’t know of any society that has profited from the prohibition of knowledge,” says Linn.
Vanessa Pacheco, another candidate for the District 2 spot, says she is not in favor of removing books and trusts librarians to select the right materials.
“They should be filled with all kinds of books for all kinds of children,” she says.
When Sherry Clemens addressed the issue at the April forum, she said she was not in favor of banning books and appreciated freedom of speech, but thought the council RISD Board of Directors should establish guidelines for book selection.
“We need to protect the minds of our students,” she says.
The issue has not been resolved statewide or nationwide, let alone RISD. But Branum offers common ground.
“The most important thing I hear over and over again is that there is absolute agreement that we want to have a variety of texts for our students to choose from,” she says. “We want our libraries to have books that reflect what our children are going through, that have characters that look like them, that are materials that relate to our children and help develop a love of reading. I think our whole community agrees on that.