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Compromise: It's What's for Democracy (An Alternative to Book Bans in Schools)

Looming problem in our public schools: In my local school district, three “parents’ rights” people (often taking the stance of what they refer to as “anti-CRT,” anti-LGBTQ+, anti-pornographic books in schools) are campaigning to join a fourth board member already in place until 2025. If all three are elected, most of the school board will be “parents’ rights” for the first time. What kind of damage will that do to the public school, staff, and families?

My viewpoint: I care about children having agency in book choice decisions. It’s necessary to temper that goal with the reality of operating a public school in this time of political divisiveness combined with the internet age. Why is it necessary? Families are leaving public schools in greater numbers. There is a record number of school teachers, administration, and school board members leaving, citing attacks, experiencing low morale.

Extreme views of unrestricted access to books in schools (an example is PEN which classifies book restriction as still a form of book ban) has the unfortunate effect of mobilizing more of these “parents rights’” people to attack public schools. Their meddling in public school matters damages the morale of school staff leading to high rates of teachers leaving the profession.

What books should be placed in “restricted section?” Graphic sexual content or graphic violence should be placed in a restricted section. I think that the book Gender Queer deserves recognition for synthesizing important concepts unfamiliar to the public in an accessible way. This book is sexually graphic and therefore needs to be placed in the “restricted section.” I grew up reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings along with my whole class in 5th grade in a Catholic private school. There is the sexual abuse of a minor in this book, but it was not graphically depicted. In addition, parents were made aware of the book choice ahead so there was age-appropriate discussion about the book. I also read To Kill a Mockingbird as well as books by George Orwell and Mark Twain. These are often improperly banned since they don’t have the graphic depiction component included.

My proposed strategies: I propose that once a student reaches the age of adult in a public school, their book access should be unrestricted without need for further notice. The parents would be given prior yearly written notice that they would not have the ability to view what their child is reading. Adult age should be determined by the state’s law on age of an emancipated minor.

The following options reduce the damage to our public school system and help more parents reach a consensus when it comes to books in schools.

Minimum Option: Beginning of each school year, parent/guardian be made aware that they can have real time access online to view what each of their children is reading/has read from school. This allows the parent/guardian to read the same book or prepare to have relevant discussion on the book with the child(ren). Parents are made aware ahead of time in the Student Code of Conduct reviewed each year that these restrictions end once the child turns the age of an emancipated minor.

Next level Option: Beginning of each school year, parent/guardian can sign a form with 2 choices:

1. giving unrestricted “opt-in” access to library

2. giving restricted access to the library (either can be changed at any time). If the child wants to read from the “restricted” area of the library, then they need parent/guardian approval. Parents are made aware ahead of time in the Student Code of Conduct reviewed each year that these restrictions end once the child turns the age of an emancipated minor.

What happens in the case of teachers and the books they curate in their individual classrooms? Most teachers are not paid enough for the many hours they already spend teaching and planning. To make matters more stressful, this year teachers are attacked by these “parents’ rights” people at school board meetings and their politicians passing extreme laws.

Great teachers encourage literacy. Effective ways they encourage literacy:

· Makes books easy to get daily in the actual classroom (between assignments, during free time, to take home)

· Provide a variety of books in subject, style, and reading level.

Related Problems

· Due to laws that have passed, many teachers must codify every book in their classroom for the first time ever – beyond the full-time job they already have. That’s not fair and they’re doing this added step unpaid with longer hours.

· Who decides on the rubric? What sources and experts determine this rubric?

· It is wrong for states to laws in place which involve fining individual teachers or librarians for having available a book that is inappropriate. The school district, not individual staff, should absorb the fine and handle this matter internally.

Closing Thoughts

There are those who say just leave this matter to parents/guardians to buy the books they want their children to read? That’s a common “parents’ rights” argument. They’ll say: “Those families that want to read these books can go buy them! I just don’t want my child to see this book!”

That is a terrible argument since public schools are a cornerstone for many students. Not every family has a bookshelf. Not every family has time or interest in taking their child to a public library. Students are the ones who lose out the most because many don’t have access to public libraries, due to distance, need to get library card, etc. The school library is a safe accessible place they need to explore new concepts and develop literacy, an essential skill in this society.

I admit that I am not an expert. I'm a parent who cares about ensuring that literacy remains a priority in our schools for all children. To offer literacy effectively, there has to be diverse offerings of books made easily accessible for readers of all ability and ages. My centrist argument is a work in progress. I invite discussion.

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