The recent politicizing of–well, almost everything–has put education on the frontline of issues ranging from COVID to widely misunderstood issues like critical race theory. Among the most visible effects has been the banning of books.
Or ‘book banning’ or ‘book policing.’
What is book banning?
Book banning and book policing are related but distinct practices that involve controlling access to certain books or regulating their content.
Book banning refers to officially prohibiting or removing specific books from public access, such as school libraries and reading lists, classrooms, public libraries, or bookstores. This censorship can occur for various reasons, including concerns over controversial or objectionable content, political reasons, religious sensitivity, or moral grounds. Book banning is often met with criticism and debate as it raises questions about freedom of expression and the right to access information. Advocates argue that it protects certain values or ideologies, while opponents argue that it infringes on intellectual freedom and limits diverse perspectives and ideas.
On the other hand, book policing encompasses a broader set of practices that involve monitoring and controlling the content of books in various ways. This can include exerting pressure on publishers to change or remove specific content, engaging in online campaigns to discredit or silence authors, or intimidating writers from expressing certain viewpoints.
Book policing is often driven by ideological or cultural motives and is intended to shape the narrative and discourse around certain topics. Like book banning, book policing also raises concerns about freedom of speech and creative expression, as it can lead to self-censorship and stifle the free exchange of ideas and perspectives–a challenging but important task in public education.
While the issue is more nuanced than a simple post like this could address, we have to start somewhere. So let’s look at the process of responding to and mitigating the effects of what is often an absurd, irrational practice that rarely improves the lives of children.
When faced with book bans and book policing, schools can take several steps to respond effectively and uphold intellectual freedom. We can also stop teaching children how to read, but rather why to read.
8 Strategies For Responding To Book Policing
While policies and topics matter, more than anything, a response to any issue whose primary forms are standards, bullet points, SMART goals, legalese, and clinical language are decidedly inhuman.
All ‘policies’ begin and end with people.
Emphasize goals (for school, books, etc.) over politics
The goal of a library and its collection of books is to help children learn and grow through, in part, reading.
These ‘collections’ are curated from countless available books into a library–one accessed by teachers and students, each with their own reason for being there. There may be relevant questions about the collection, but before those inquiries, a purpose or goal must be clarified and shared.
In other words, we have to share a definition of ‘library,’ especially in light of its shifting role in an age of digital media and changing forms of ‘books’ and related content. In response, we can be willing–if such an effort is worth taking in light of the massive demand on schools and teachers.
And, in turn, we might apply a critical eye to all texts rather than just the ones in political contention. If one text is offensive to one group and seen as biased, hurtful, problematic in its themes, etc., we can then decide how to respond if a response is warranted.
We might also invite those with strong opinions on select texts to bring a similar emotional and intellectual investment in all related matters regarding their child’s education.
See also In Defense Of Absolute Literacy
Engage in open, good-faith dialogue
Create opportunities for open and respectful discussions with parents, teachers, students, and community members. Listen to their concerns and explain the educational value and relevance of the books in question. Encourage constructive dialogue to foster understanding and address misconceptions. This as opposed to fielding complaints at school board meetings or through social media, for example.
Organize workshops, seminars, or parent-teacher meetings to educate the community about the importance of intellectual freedom, the role of literature in education, and the potential impact of book bans on students’ intellectual growth. Promote awareness about the dangers of censorship and the benefits of diverse reading materials.
See also What Are Literature Circles?
Develop a clear book selection policy
Establish a well-defined book selection policy that aligns with educational goals, curriculum objectives, and the principles of intellectual freedom. This policy should outline the criteria for selecting books and emphasize the importance of diverse perspectives and critical thinking.
Revisit existing practices
Review and revise book selection policies continuously to remain relevant and inclusive. Seek input from diverse stakeholders, including educators, students, parents, and community members. By involving multiple perspectives, you can strengthen your policies and make them more resilient to challenges.
Develop a challenge-response protocol
Establish a straightforward procedure for handling book challenges or bans. This protocol should include gathering information about the complaint, forming a review committee, involving experts, and communicating decisions to relevant parties. Ensure the process is fair, transparent, and compliant with legal requirements.
See also How To Read A Book
Seek legal guidance if necessary
If book bans or challenges escalate and legal issues arise, consult legal experts specializing in education law or civil liberties. They can guide the legal rights and responsibilities of the school in such situations.
Collaborate with local, national, and/or global advocacy groups
Connect with organizations dedicated to promoting intellectual freedom and fighting against censorship. These groups can provide resources, advice, and support in navigating book bans and help amplify your message through their networks.
In short, responding to book bans requires a proactive and informed approach that prioritizes intellectual freedom, inclusivity, and open dialogue. By fostering a supportive environment and engaging with stakeholders, schools can effectively address book policing and protect students’ right to access diverse ideas and perspectives.