Amidst the can of worms opened up when the Dallas-area Highland Park Independent School District recently suspended and then reinstated seven books on approved reading lists, it is important not to overlook one particularly alarming practice. Currently the district is considering a proposal to identify “objectionable texts” using the American Library Association’s annual lists of the top ten challenged or banned books from the past decade, and to require parental permission for students to read any of the books that happened to appear there.
In a letter to the Highland Park ISD Board of Education, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom Director Barbara Jones strongly objected to the proposed use of the lists as a censorship tool, which would be directly counter to OIF’s intentions in compiling them:
[T]he American Library Association’s Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged or Banned Books List is not and has never been a judgment on the quality or educational suitability of a work or a valid designation that the book is ‘objectionable.’ This is especially so since many challenges to books are determined to be without merit. Indeed, many challenges are motivated not by a challenger’s concern about educational suitability but instead by the challenger’s discriminatory and often unconstitutional beliefs regarding literature that incorporates themes and elements addressing race, religion, homosexuality, or unorthodox views….Employing [the list] as a curriculum standard substitutes the unthinking opinion of a crowd for the considered judgment of the professional educators on your faculty.
If the proposal were to be implemented, the books labelled “objectionable” in Highland Park ISD would include classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men, as well as more recent favorites like the entire Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Twilight series. Here are just the graphic novels and hybrid novels from the past ten years of ALA frequently challenged lists:
- Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
- The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
- Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
- Flashcards of My Life, by Charise Mericle Harper
A further irony: Because Absolutely True Diary was among the seven titles suspended and then reinstated last month, Highland Park itself has already contributed to the book’s inevitable presence on the list for 2014! Instead of this self-perpetuating system, Jones urged the district in her letter to address parental complaints on a case-by-case basis with “a transparent and consistent reconsideration procedure to review the book and a policy that allows parents and students to request an alternative text when they have a sincere objection.”
Meanwhile, the district last week said it was forming a review committee to consider the one book among the infamous seven that actually has a formal challenge against it, Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain. There is no set timeline for the review process, but the next school board meeting will be held November 11. If the challenge or the various proposals to “flag” or otherwise restrict books are addressed at that time, we will keep you updated!
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.