Books are worthy of discussion, not banning

Although not new, book challenges have surged in public schools since 2020, part of a broader backlash to what kids read and discuss in school. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)

By Tammy Raynor Petrosillo

October 12, 2023

“Banning books will not protect our children, but teaching them how to read and think critically will,” North Carolina teacher Tammy Raynor Petrosillo writes in an op-ed.

During my elementary school years in 1970s rural North Carolina, we didn’t have cable or video games for entertainment. We had books, magazines and our imaginations. I read everything I could get my hands on. From Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys mysteries to the adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. I read my grandmother’s Readers Digest and my mother’s Family Circle and Southern Living magazines.

Many mornings you could find me at the breakfast table reading the back of the cereal box.  It was a treat to go to the library and the biggest challenge I had was which books I was going to check out this week. I wanted them all. If words were present, I read them and I read them all. 

Reading opened my mind to adventure and ideas. Reading introduced me to different cultures and lifestyles. Reading made me smarter, empathetic, a better communicator and facilitated critical thinking. I am grateful that my parents never denied me books. I am, to this day, never without a book and quite often will be reading two or three different books at the same time. 

As book bans have become commonplace in recent years, I’ve been thinking about what it would have been like if some of my favorite childhood books were banned. What if I couldn’t read them because someone I didn’t even know decided that these books were not appropriate for me? What about my rights? Who should make the decisions about the accessibility of books?

This is an argument over the universal availability of books and where the responsibility of  decision-making lies.

I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment. I believe that all people have the right to have access to and read materials of their choice. I also believe that parents have the right to determine what their children should or should not be reading. However, they do not have the right to determine what other people’s children read. 

RELATED: 7 Books That Have Been Challenged or Banned in North Carolina 

Overwhelmingly these bans are instigated by self appointed culture warriors who embrace extremism. They have targeted school libraries, public libraries, and classroom collections. The majority of the books they are challenging have specific themes: race, history, sexual orientation, and gender. Topics that they personally have issues with and want to erase. They are doing everything they can to prevent society from moving towards inclusiveness, diversity, acceptance and freedom.

PEN America, an advocacy organization that defends freedom of expression, reported book banning nationwide has jumped 33% in the last year.  Educators have been under attack and accused of indoctrination.

Recently, a Texas middle school teacher was fired for reading a graphic novel version of Anne Frank because it references nudity. A Florida principal  was fired after a teacher showed David in a middle school art class. Three parents claimed that seeing David left their children emotionally scarred. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system has banned the children’s book Red: A Crayon’s Story. The author is dyslexic and this is a story about overcoming a disability. It’s about recognizing and accepting differences. The extremists say it promotes “transgenderism,” despite the book never mentioning anything sexual.  

As an educator, it is important to me that schools and libraries be a place where all students feel safe, welcomed, represented, loved and cared for.  All children deserve the right to see themselves reflected at school. That includes having access to books that reflect their life experiences. 

Recently, these culture warriors have visited communities holding meetings concerning pornography in our schools. North Carolina laws, as well as the policies set forth by local school boards, prevent things such as pornography from being used in the classrooms or anywhere where children are present.  Books in our school libraries are painstakingly vetted and curated by professionally trained educators who understand the development and maturity levels of the students they serve.

The same group that screams pornography in schools also accuses teachers of pushing pornographic material onto students. Not only is this factually wrong, but dangerous. Using phrases like “child groomers,” “sexual abusers,” and “indoctrination,” places a target on the backs of teachers and I fear it is only a matter of time before something bad happens. 

We should be adding to our libraries, not taking away from them. Banning books will not protect our children, but teaching them how to read and think critically will. Authors, artists, educators, students, and parents are joining advocacy groups like PEN America in fighting back. If everyone who opposes book banning would fight back, this whole book banning effort would die. The extremists simply do not have the numbers on their side. 

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