On crisp autumn Friday nights in my collegiate hometown, visiting teams in the late 1980s who made strong plays against the Norman High School Tiger football team might hear “We have more National Merit Scholars than you do!” Maybe our team didn’t win every football game, but we were sure proud of our academic success. Of the six teachers I had my junior year, four held doctorate degrees. The two who didn’t were the yearbook advisor and the history teacher. Feeding straight into stereotypes, the history teacher was among the football coaches.
These days, Norman has two high schools. I presume football is still important to both the Tigers and whoever prances around in green on a campus haunted by spirits of Longfellow Middle School past. I am sure that residents of Norman will say academics are still important, but it’s hard to believe that they have the same level of support as back in the day when the town had never voted down a bond for education.
My English teachers had us read the classics, which consisted of nearly all the banned and challenged books of last century. With a few exceptions, these were books about white people written by white men. These offensive texts typically exposed us to profanity or religion or socialism/communism. My teachers didn’t seek banned and challenged books, but we students sure did! Thank goodness I wasn’t a teen mom. I would have named my kid Holden, and lord knows this planet has enough phonies in it.
The American Library Association reports that books by and for Black people and the LGBTQI+ community top the banned and challenged books for the last couple of years. I guess we know what’s more dangerous than Satan or socialism these days. Check out the top 10 Banned and Challenged booklists from recent years. This includes books like Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe.
Oh, this book did not go over well in my hometown. I’ve cobbled together this story from Twitter, but my journalistic integrity is probably as good as anything reported in my home state at this time. An NHS English teacher was like, “Oh, boy, this HB 1775 is a bear. I’m just going to shutter my classroom library and send kids elsewhere.” She put a QR code to the Brooklyn Public Library with a message along lines of “definitely do not scan this.”
I don’t know if reverse psychology works on today’s youth, but it worked on today’s parents. A mom scanned the code, found a book of interest, purchased that book and was somehow surprised that a book called “Gender Queer” aimed at coming of age kids had sexual content in it. She considers the book pornography. She complains, admin scolds the teacher and the teacher says, “Eff this noise. I quit.” I wasn’t there, but I can imagine. I’m exhausted repeating the story.
[A moment for housekeeping: I love my hometown and my home state and several people who live there, including my mother who was a teen mom with sense. The banned books I read in high school were assigned, whereas the incident recounted in this post appears to be about optional outside reading. For the love of football, please do not think that I would favor a “classic” over a good YA book. Finally, do your own research. I googled the story and almost linked an article, but I didn’t super love any of the reports that came up. You can put your favorite news link on this story in the comments.]
I don’t know the story is all that interesting unless you are from Norman and thought we were crunchy granola weirdo liberals obsessed with education. We definitely are not. There is important work going on in Oklahoma where HB 1775 is concerned. The ACLU along with Oklahoma educators like Millwood High School AP History teacher, Anthony Crawford, have picked up this battle. Crawford says, “Most of the time, my students are the ones who want to talk about race and gender because these are the issues they deal with in their everyday lives” (ACLU Magazine, Fall 2022). I’m on his side because he is on his students’ side.
Oklahoma isn’t the only state pushing censorship and book challenges. This is a nationwide trend on an upward trajectory. “The unprecedented number of challenges we’re seeing already this year reflects coordinated, national efforts to silence marginalized or historically underrepresented voices and deprive all of us – young people, in particular – of the chance to explore a world beyond the confines of personal experience,” says ALA President Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada (School Library Journal, ALA: 2022 Book Challenges on Pace to Break Record-Setting 2021 Numbers).
Parents and community members are usually the culprit behind book challenges, but those numbers have been shifting in alarming ways. Patricia M. Wong writes in American Libraries (June 2022, p. 4) that 10% of challenges come from organized groups and that these groups encourage local chapters and their members to attend school and library board meetings to demand removal of books that give voice to LGBTQI+ and BIPOC communities. That has a visceral impact on authors and their readers.
Do students have the freedom to read ’em? You decide. Here’s the Supreme Court Ruling summary of Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982).