School book banning efforts have reached levels not seen in decades – The Oakland Press | #socialmedia

The topic of banning certain books from school library shelves and from classroom curriculum is nothing new, but the motivations behind that push are becoming more and more political.

Over the past year, parents, activists, school boards, and lawmakers around the country have challenged books at a pace not seen in decades, according to officials at the American Library Association, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and other advocates for free expression. Censorship efforts have ranged from local communities to statewide initiatives

The American Library Association said in a preliminary report that it received what they called an “unprecedented” 330 reports of book challenges last fall, each of which can include multiple books. Since 2001, the association has averaged 395 cases per year, but suggests over 80% of cases cannot be reported.

Locally, there have been several recent book challenges including in Novi Community Schools.

In January, a parent in the Novi Community School District challenged a book, titled “Lawn-Boy” by Jonathan Evison, during a school board meeting. It’s a book that has been sitting on shelves at the Novi High School Library for five years, having been checked out just twice.

The book has been criticized  because children engage in adult behavior. It tells the story of Mike Muñoz, a young adult Mexican American who has faced hardship ever since his childhood and is now going through a phase of self-discovery. The book has also drawn criticism from parents in some Texas, Ohio, and Virginia school districts saying the book is ‘full of obscenity” and “sexual content.”

Lawn-Boy, By Jonathan Evison, has been challenged by parents and other conservative groups in Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and Michigan. In January, a parent in Novi requested to have the book removed from the Novi High School library. (Mark Cavitt/The Oakland Press)

The book has faced controversy because of its involvement of children in adult behavior, which revolves around the story of a boy who is full of wisdom and comedy at the same time but fond of child girls. The book has also drawn criticism from parents in some Texas, Ohio, and Virgina school districts.

Steve Matthews, superintendent of Novi Community Schools, said district officials met to consider the parent’s request to remove the book from the library, had direct conversations with the parent, and ultimately decided to remove the book from general circulation, but not from the school library entirely.

“It will stay in our library and the media specialist can share it with the more advanced 11th and 12th grades classes with the belief that the book really does have a mature audience in mind,’ he said. “It’s not for every student at the high school, but it certainly is a book that high school students can access.”

It’s the first time in Matthews’ 11 years as superintendent that the district has received a request to ban a book.

“My sense is students need access to books,” he said. “They need access to ideas that are beyond the ideas that they may normally hear or see within their family or friendship circles. And certainly, that’s one of the reasons why libraries exist, which is to give people access to information and to ideas and to let them see the world through another person’s eyes.”

Matthews said books can be controversial, but that banning those books is not the appropriate response. He added, “We trust our teachers to make good decisions about the books that they have in their class for students to read.”

“In my view, the reason schools exist is to help students navigate through these discussions and to navigate through these books with the help of adults who care deeply for those kids. Helping students think through and develop their own ideas about the topics that these books cover is a much more appropriate way to do that. We do that best by having teachers who are deeply connected to these students that can lead students through those conversations.”

The National Coalition Against Censorship maintains a Youth Censorship Database that includes book challenge data drawn from reports to NCAC and its partner organizations, as well as from media coverage. Last year, the organization collected data on 55 book challenges. In 2020, that number was 19.

In October, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel, was challenged by a parent at Troy Athens High School. The parent, who went to the school board, the city council, and the Troy Police Department with their concerns, said he considered an image inside the graphic novel to be pornographic.

The graphic memoir discusses Bechdel’s stressful relationship with her late father, Bruce Bechdel, who was an English teacher and director of the local funeral home. Bechdel came out as a lesbian in college and then discovered her father was also gay. A few weeks after the discovery, her father died.

Fun Home: A Faimily Tragicomic By Alison Bechdel, was challenged by a parent at Troy Athens High School in October. The parent claimed an image in the graphic novel was pornographic. (Mark Cavitt/The Oakland Press)

According to WDIV, the novel was not part of any mandatory curriculum and does have a graphic content warning label. It was in the library because it was part of an advanced placement seminar at the school in 2015. It has been checked out three times in the last six years.

Calls to the Troy Public School District for comment were not returned.

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