In a recent article on collaboration and the development of collective effectivenessKatz and Donohoo write,
Collaboration is an essential ingredient of quality implementation, as it is with most high-quality professional training. But if collaboration seems easy, it’s anything but. It’s not hard to bring a group of people together, but how do you make sure that being together adds value? And how to avoid getting bogged down in conflicts and contradictions?
Katz and Donohoo’s questions are important. Our collaborative work must add value. Unfortunately, in conversations with teachers and school building and district officials, it’s evident that they experience many conflicts that prevent meaningful collaboration, and it’s not just due to COVID. It’s actually due to politics and the infiltration of right-wing conservative thinking into our public school system.
Lately, there have been many reports about parents wanting to ban books. In a recent story on NBC News, they reported that more than 50% of banned books centered on an LGBTQ character and children of color. Coincidence that the book ban is for LGBTQ characters or characters of color? Probably not.
In fact, Harris and Alter write,
Parents, activists, school board officials and lawmakers across the country are challenging the books at a pace not seen in decades. The American Library Association said, “In a preliminary report, it received an ‘unprecedented’ 330 reports of book challenges, each possibly including multiple books, last fall.”
Isn’t it interesting, or rather infuriating, that just where students should be engaged in challenges to their own thinking in order to grow as learners, these people are actively ensuring that schools are not able to create opportunities for this thought? Isn’t it interesting that some of the very groups who are shouting so loudly against cancel culture are the same people trying to cancel discussions of the ideas that come to us through the books? If Katz and Donohoo are right about collaboration and conversation, which they are, where is the added value of banning books?
Pornography is an intentional word
The dumbing down of America is not due to a watered down curriculum, but rather the direct result of parents, leaders and teachers choosing to ban books because, one way or another, they do not agree with what is written in these books. .
In an effort to undermine the quality of the books, governors like Greg Abbot of Texas label them pornographic. While I’d love to say that Abbott chose his words incorrectly, the reality is that he intentionally chose that word to upset the parents in his state. I wonder how many banned books were actually read by the parents who were trying to ban them.
Sure, they can read a passage at a board meeting, but have they actually read the entire book?
The interesting thing about reading is that it’s meant to expand our ideas and thoughts, not coincide with our confirmation bias. Books are supposed to inspire us to debate and exchange ideas, but too many of these states that ban books would rather censor free thought. What are they so afraid of? Isn’t it funny that so many of these parents want to unmask their children at the same time that they impose a mask on their child’s ability to choose a book for themselves? And they certainly seem to be masking what this ban is all about, which is pushing institutional racism in their schools.
It’s not new
The reality is that this problem is not new. People have been trying to ban books since we were a country. The sad and often hidden side of it all is when librarians feel the pressure to self-censor the books made available in a library. They don’t feel that they will be supported by their directors, so they choose not to buy books for their libraries that might cause a stir.
In fact, in this article published by the American Library Association (ALA), Asheim writes,
But many librarians are notorious for deferring to anticipated pressures and for avoiding coping with problems by removing the possible causes of the problems. In such cases, the rejection of a book is a censure, because the book has been judged – not on its own merits – but on the librarian’s devotion to three meals a day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as devoted as anyone to the delights of the table and a roof against the rain. But these considerations should not be confused with literary criteria, and it is with the latter that the librarian-selector is properly concerned.
As you can see, censorship comes in many forms, and it’s not just the sordid cases you hear while watching the evening news.
Representation matters…even if it makes you feel uncomfortable
Many years ago, Albert Bandura began researching self-efficacy, which is the belief we feel in our own abilities. Self-efficacy is context-specific, meaning we all have areas where we feel confident and areas where we don’t.
What Bandura discovered in 2000 is that leaders who feel effective double their efforts, but those who don’t feel effective slow down their efforts. This means that when leaders, and in this case parents, feel uncomfortable, they will try to stay out of the conversation as much as possible. It’s unfortunate, because the only way to feel more comfortable is to engage in conversations that help build understanding.
So many people seem to run away from the very conversations we should be running towards. But they probably already know that. They don’t want to understand it, or their children to understand it, that’s why they want to ban it. Whether we are conservative, liberal, or somewhere in between, we should see representation in the books offered in school. If we are black, brown or gay, we should see ourselves represented in the books. It is our choice if we want to check them or not.
At the end
Banning books is a weak response to ideas that scare us. Are the people banning books the same people who are shouting from the rooftops that there should be less government involvement in decision-making, and yet they want to ban books from others without giving them the chance to choose themselves? In states where books are banned, there should be more and more people speaking out against censorship. Kats and Donohoo are right that collaboration within schools is difficult and sometimes complicated. It seems that collaboration within school communities is probably even more complicated.
All in all, the sad reality of all of this is that censoring and banning books will certainly work. Too many teachers and leaders don’t feel effective enough to stand up to these loud, censoring parents because they love their jobs and their students too much to risk losing their jobs and their students. At some point, however, oppression and ignorance should not be allowed to win this battle.