A group of right-wing parents cherry-picked passages from books written by Black and LGBTQ authors Tuesday night at a Central Bucks School District board meeting in order to fan the flames of ignorance, fear, and rage to fuel local book banning efforts.
Even more disturbing is that a few parents at the meeting even suggested that the books in question, like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” were being intentionally placed in libraries to “groom” students for pedophelia, echoing the unhinged and discredited QAnon conspiracies.
One parent read a passage of about 300 words dealing with incest and rape from Morrison’s book, which totals over 50,000 words. At the end she then oddly exclaimed how what she read wasn’t LGBTQ in nature, as if to proudly exclaim she wasn’t bigoted. Parents like her seem to be taking direction from the far-right website “Woke Pennsylvania,” formerly “Woke Bucks County,” whose cowardly anonymous leaders want to whip local conservatives into a mob-like frenzy. Other books called out at the meeting that are showcased on this website include: “Gender Queer,” “Lawn Boy,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” and “Beyond Magenta.”
“For centuries, people have searched for the answers to humanity’s most debated questions in the words of Twain and Shakespeare alike. Literature has a proclivity to guide the soul. It gives people something to relate to, a silent promise that gleams, ‘you too can make it through this,’” said Central Bucks West High School Sophomore Alexandra Coffey at the meeting. “That is why when I heard about the recent debate over the appropriateness of certain books in our school libraries, I was baffled.”
I spoke with her and her mom Susan Thursday night and both were upset, if not unsettled, by the tone of many comments and behavior of the book-banning crowd.
“It was kind of hard to hear all that just because … nobody was saying that people are excited to read those passages, or that they want to read those passages so bad,” Alexandra explained to me. “The content there is so devastating, sad, and traumatizing, but it’s there for a reason and that’s what we’re trying to get across.”
She gets it.
And for the parents who don’t, maybe they shouldn’t, even now, read a book like “The Bluest Eye” if they think it is “pornographic.” This does however lead to an actual legitimate concern: Is this book, and others mentioned, appropriate for all students?
Alexandra’s mom Susan doesn’t think so.
“I think not every kid could read those books, or even one of those books,” she told me.
And she’s right, which is why parents can send notes to librarians excluding certain books from their children’s access. But certain school board members’ efforts to potentially deprofessionalize processes for choosing books, challenging books, and ultimately banning books aren’t about looking out for the best educational interests of students. It’s not about parental choice either (unless you agree with their reactionary politics). It is an attack on academic and intellectual freedom in order to serve a right-wing political agenda.
Kelly Dejong, a CBSD parent and alumni from Plumstead Township,
is frustrated. Rather than dealing with this culture war craziness, she says, the school board and community should be working together to make school a better environment for learning – for all students. There’s actually a solution for this too: It’s called diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“I don’t think it’s wrong that these people don’t like these books in particular or take offense to some of it … and I don’t think it’s their fault,” said Dejong. “I think that it’s a national message that’s pushed down their throats. They’re in these social media echo chambers and when that’s all they see, if all I saw was messages saying this is pornography and my children are going to be abused I’d be upset too.”
There are a few solutions. One is having rational and reasonable conversations. But if you listen to what was said at Tuesday night’s meeting and the way people in the audience were behaving, like me, you might not have much faith moving forward.
Kate Nazemi, another CBSD mom, has another, which also might be a long shot — though it shouldn’t be.
“If we leave it to the librarians who understand how to guide the process that book selection remains unbiased, objective, and nonpartisan, then we don’t have a problem,” Nazemi told me.
She even has a petition you can sign to support this very simple and straightforward solution. Nazemi believes, along with over 1,600 other folks who have signed it, that the district needs to maintain book collection and challenge procedures aligned with national standards set by the American Association of School Librarians and that sustain the Library Bill of Rights.
I really don’t see how this would be controversial. Do you?
So let’s see if reason can triumph over rage.