“Oh, No; Not Again!”
I saw the above Tweet, and it hit me all over again.
We are all tired of hearing about the ongoing onslaught of book challenges across the nation. School librarians have been talking about this for no less than a year – and some of us considerably longer. We are getting book challenge fatigue.
The problem is, as vocal as school librarians have been about the continuing censorship pushes hitting more and more schools, we’ve sort of been preaching to the choir. Sadly, too many folks outside the school library world are aware of what’s actually going on.
“You’re Kidding, Right?”
I wish this was a joke, but it is not. In October, I asked a room of 60 educators from across my county if they had heard about book challenges going on, either nationally or locally. Zero hands went up.
In a room packed with practicing teachers.
I had an almost identical response when I asked the same question of a dozen educators from across the state during a Zoom meeting. That yielded one “yes” – from a retired school librarian.
“That Can’t Be Right… Can It?”
I wish these results were atypical. But every time I interact with people who aren’t school librarians, they are unaware of what’s happening in libraries all over the nation.
It seems absolutely baffling that this can be the case. Yet despite some very high-profile outlets sharing stories, public awareness of this issue is extremely low. Book and challenges and censorship are under-reported, particularly for an ongoing nation-wide event that is threatening multiple spokes of our democracy and society.
We all know from our information literacy lessons that it’s easy to get caught inside an information echo chamber. We tend to turn to the same sources for information because we find them trustworthy. And our trustworthy sources of information about book challenges have been discussing this incredibly important topic for quite a while.
Unfortunately, our trustworthy resources tend to be pretty niche when it comes to school librarianship. And there’s not nearly enough crossover between school librarians’ sources and the sources the public at large tunes in to.
“So What Are You Saying?”
I realize that every guide to etiquette clearly states that politics should be left at home when one goes holiday visiting, but I’m going to ask you to be rude and break some rules.
If you get the chance to talk to folks outside of education – be they friends, family members, roaming carollers, or people in the check-out line – it is worth bringing up some of the challenges school libraries are facing.
We all know that the challengers are not focused on books or education. They’re trying to disempower entire portions of our population. And they’re doing it by targeting kids. They’re trying to make it illegal to say gay, to provide important health information, to even give a big group of our students the ability to see themselves in what they read.
The fact of the matter is, most Americans prefer intellectual freedom, representation, and honesty for all our students. And they don’t realize those preferences are being undercut. Taking a moment to let them know could make a tremendous difference for our students.
I’m not suggesting that you approach a stranger or Uncle Kirby and start shouting about how “they’re coming for our books!” Heck, even when I lay everything out clearly and with citations for my best friends, I can see them thinking I’ve become a delusional conspiracy theorist.
But maybe there’s a more subtle way to approach things that can get the ball rolling.
In my state, local residents run for positions on the local school board. I’m asking my friends if they can name anyone on their local school board. Then I’ll mention how those school board members essentially have control over what is – or isn’t – taught in schools. I’ll ask them how’d they’d feel if someone like, say, a former president got to make those decisions.
“I See Where You’re Going”
Maybe I’ll share an episode of This American Life about the town that lost its public education system when 20 residents voted to end public education in the town. Or the one about the current movement by election deniers to take control of the election process.
I’ll definitely ask them if they think people from other towns – even other states – should get to decide what kind of education students in their town should get. And I’ll ask them if they remember the “culture wars” of the 80’s and 90’s. At that point, they might be ready to hear a bit about the money getting funneled into local school board elections, and why.
Maybe by that point, they’ll be a little less skeptical of my tinfoil hat.
“That Sort of Sounds… Reasonable”
It is normal to want to move on from bad news. And it can be demoralizing, even damaging, to dwell on a negative situation. But trying to stand up for students’ rights is not easily done alone. When folks outside the profession are aware of the book challenge situation swirling all around us, they are more likely to be allies helping to protect students. They are also less likely to fall for the fear-mongering and mud-slinging that all too often accompany book challenges.
So as fall gives way to winter, and we gather with our nearest and dearest, think about how you might give them the gift of knowledge.
LibrarianSinger. “‘I Learned over the Holiday Weekend That Laypeople Think That a Book Challenge and a Reading Challenge Are the Same Thing. Alas, No.’” Twitter.com, 28 Nov. 2022, twitter.com/librariansinger/status/1597269872169209856.
Author: Steve Tetreault
After 24 years as a classroom English Language Arts teacher, Steve became a school librarian in January 2022. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!