I’m concerned about the school board’s recent discussions about books for several reasons.
Books have to have conflicts. With no conflict, there’s no story. Those conflicts need to reflect our real world, which — unfortunately — includes war, addiction, abuse, discrimination, rape, racism, poverty, divorce, death, etc. Our teens can see through triviality and want to read about real issues. As author Clint Smith says, “Young people are capable of far more than many adults often give them credit for.”
Reading is a safe way to explore the world’s toughest issues. Our high schoolers will graduate in a few years, and reading about the world’s problems will help them become critical problem solvers and empathetic community and family members. In fact, studies show that students who are heavy readers have better social skills than non-readers because they’ve practiced handling conflict through reading. (Read The Storytelling Animal by Gottschall).
The stack of criticisms given to the board is primarily from a website affiliated with Moms for Liberty, which isn’t objective and shouldn’t be used to determine library purchases. The “reviews” pull lines from books and list them without context. This is exactly the wrong way to experience a book and is why we end up with folks yelling, “Inappropriate!” A book must be read in its entirety. What happens after the line that was pulled from the book? What does the character learn? How do they persevere and grow? How do their mistakes and challenges help the reader make sense of the world and their place in it?
I’ve heard the argument that if kids wore these lines/images from books on their shirts they’d violate the school dress code. Again, context matters. Every book in the literary canon has lines that if pulled off the page and away from the lines around it would be inappropriate to put on a shirt. Think about Shakespeare, The Catcher in the Rye, The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, Fences, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, and more.
School board, please do your job: Ensure that policies are followed so that curriculum experts can do their jobs.
Excellent letter! I concur wholeheartedly with everything Ms. Jaeger has pointed out. I wish I had learned about more of the life e ents she describes via high school literature. Perhaps I would have been more prepared for the world and avoided some of the very difficult situations I found myself in. I was very naive and innocent. Thank you for a very well written, necessary letter that drives to the very core of the book controversy we have been facing.
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