Let’s Do Banned Book Week

Banned Book Week will take place this year 18-24 September. It’s an annual week to celebrate the freedom to read.

Being able to go to a bookstore or library and pick up a book that meets our personal expectations is something we all take for granted. We’ve seldom realized how privileged we are in that regard.

Unless we are disabled, LGBTQIA+, Black, Indigenous, Asian American or Pacific Islander American and/or Latinx/e.

Being able to go to a bookstore or library and pick up a book that meets personal expectations is something white people can take for granted. White people seldom realized how privileged they are in that regard. If you’re able to realize that there is a diversity of beliefs, thoughts, and experiences in this country then you should be able to value the freedom to read. Stories exist to liberate all of our possibilities.

My experience with Banned book week has been watching lists of banned books appear in a variety of places and those who can afford it will then go out and buy the books. Some educators will plan units around banned books in their classrooms, and some libraries will schedule programming for their communities.

Can we do something different this year? Can we stop commercializing this event and work to make a difference?

I’m asking you to

  1. Write a letter to your local school and library board in support of specific books that celebrate minoritzed creators OR
  2. Write a letter in support of your local school library. template
  3. Attend your next school board meeting and take a friend.
  4. Attend your next library board meeting and take a friend.
  5. Borrow 2-3 books written or illustrated by minoritized authors from your local library and be seen reading them. Carry them with you, post them on your socials and place them on your work desk.

Visiting school board meetings, or getting in the habit of reading their minutes, should alert you to all the ways education is currently being politicized. What is happening in schools and libraries today extends beyond incorporating youth literature in school libraries and classrooms. Censorship today includes educator’s and student’s personal identity; textbooks; and curriculum.  The NYTimes describes it in this way.

Conservatives have fought for schools to promote patriotism, highlight the influence of Christianity and celebrate the founding fathers. In a September speech, President Trump warned against a “radical left” that wants to “erase American history, crush religious liberty, indoctrinate our students with left-wing ideology.”

The left has pushed for students to encounter history more from the ground up than from the top down, with a focus on the experiences of marginalized groups such as enslaved people, women and Native Americans.

In considering how patriotism and historical evidence has entered classrooms, we could look at some of the evolving middle grade curriculum. New York’s [p. 81] as compared to Indiana’s are perfect examples. We also have to look at how social studies textbooks cater to local politics, rather than learning how to critically examine history and how to participate more fully in government. Does this misdirection contribute to how we’ve learned to maneuver truth?

When the media constantly works to convince us that the two side cannot talk to each other, then how do we decide to find the energy to work for a lasting resolution, to compromise? I think we have to educate ourselves.

When I teach information literacy to students, I tell them to go to the source, and to find that research study mentioned in a news article, to read its methodology. Same thing here. Go to the source: find out what’s happening in your schools by attending the meetings, reading the board documents and getting to know your board members. Know for whom you’re voting and what their agenda is. Write letters to show your support or lack thereof. We know the squeaky wheel gets the grease, why can’t that squeak proactively show support for books, librarians and educators? I keep a list of new BIPOC releases, use it to find books you want to support in your local library.

Even though the same tactics are repeatedly used to challenge information that is presented to children, we can’t rely on the same old measures to resist them. kThere is strength in numbers, but we have to show up to claim it.