books

Censorship-Happy School May Demand Parent Permission For Kids To Read Library Books

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high school age student reading in libraryA school district in Delaware has hit upon a solution to Young Adult literature that deals with subject matter parents find problematic, like themes of abuse, sexuality, or LGBTQIA issues. No, it’s not smacking combative parents upside the head and telling them they can’t keep their kids away from ideas forever. Instead, as BoingBoing reports, the proposal currently on the table is to make students obtain a parental permission slip for any YA reading matter they’re assigned for class or that they want to check out from the school library.

The Appoquinimink School District is entertaining the possibility of enacting this ridiculous form of censorship because of a complaint from Jim Chevalier, the parent of an Appoquinimink high school student and – quite coincidentally – the pastor at a local Baptist church. His son joined an extracurricular reading group, whose current object of discussion was the book Identical, which deals with the difficult subject matter of a girl abused by her father. Chevalier’s son, who is the only male student in the reading group, brought the book home to his dad to complain about the sexual material, because the chance that the book was helping a female student in the group deal with her own abusive situation matters zilch if there was a chance it might make a dude uncomfortable.

If my kid was in an extracurricular reading group where he didn’t like the material, I might say, “Have you thought about, say, not being in this reading group?” Chevalier, on the other, hand, took his complaints to the district, and the Appoquinimink director of secondary education, Ray Grauver, responded by bringing his permission-slip proposal to the board. Because if one kid read something he didn’t like, we definitely need to lock every kid away from ideas their parents would rather they not think about.

The district already responds to requests from parents to give a child an alternate reading assignment, but the new proposal, if enacted, would more than double down on that. Requiring students to get permission before reading in-class assignments is bad enough – this is YA literature; these kids are going to be reading Judy Blume and Looking for Alaska and Speak, not Tropic of Cancer.

I depended heavily on the school library as a kid. I crammed books into my locker about fantasy and magic, and about science and natural history, that couldn’t have come home without being sent right back where they came from without giving me a chance to peek between the covers. Tamora Pierce’s In the Hand of the Goddess had a title that would have barred it from entry into my childhood home; Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies had the word ‘bastard’ on the back cover, and so that had to be greedily consumed in between class periods rather risked under the covers of my bed. Books about human evolution and anthropology were read when I finished my geometry classwork early and had time to spare.

Books really did open new doors for me as a child, and my situation was really a pretty good one. I can’t imagine making a gender- or sexuality-questioning child ask a rigidly fundamentalist parent for permission to read about a character like herself. Or asking a child in an abusive situation to get his abuser’s sign-off to read a book about someone in a similar position. High schoolers don’t need to be told what to think, or what they’re allowed to think about.

Grauver doesn’t seem to see the issue with his proposal, which, as he reminded the school board while presenting the plan on December 10, he can enact with or without their permission:

“There has been concern and controversy within the district about the appropriateness of books and media sources. Just to be clear, we are not banning books or censoring books.”

Maybe it doesn’t count as ‘banning’ or ‘censoring’ books to lock them away from students who want to read them, but the end result is pretty much the same. I’m sure this policy would save Grauver a lot of hassle from complaining parents, but it comes at the expense of kids’ well-being. If it looks like censorship, swims like censorship, and quacks like censorship, it just might be censorship. And Appoquinimink students deserve better.

(Image: different_nata/Shutterstock)