CBLDF has joined a coalition led by the CBLDF-sponsored Kids’ Right to Read Project in sending a letter to the Highland Park Independent School District in Dallas, Texas. CBLDF joins KRRP in advance of the district’s next school board meeting, during which trustees will likely examine the school system’s book challenge policy.
CBLDF joins coalition efforts like these to protect the freedom to read comics. Censorship manifests in many ways, and the unique visual nature of comics makes them more prone to censorship than other types of books. Taking an active stand against all instances of censorship curbs precedent that could adversely affect the rights upon which comics readers depend.
A small but vocal group of parents had been attending school board meetings and sending emails to ask for the removal of seven books: The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein); The Working Poor: Invisible in America (David K. Shipler); Siddhartha (Herman Hesse); The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie); An Abundance of Katherines (John Green); The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Jeannette Walls); and Song of Solomon (Toni Morrison).
Superintendent Dawson Orr decided to suspend the books despite a lack of formal challenge against six of the seven titles (only The Art of Racing in the Rain has been formally challenged). Subsequently, a more vocal — and we hope much larger — group of parents protested the suspensions, which resulted in the restoration of the titles. The district also revised their policy on book challenges such that challenged books will continue to be taught in classes until a formal decision by a review committee is made. Orr explained in an e-mail to parents:
“I made the decision in an attempt to de-escalate the conflict, and I readily admit that it had the opposite effect. I take full responsibility for the decision, and I apologize for the disruption it has caused. All the titles that were temporarily suspended will be restored to the approved reading list.”
The trustees continue to review the policy and the makeup of the materials review committee, but the group that protested the books proposed a requirement that the school identify “potentially objectionable content” and obtain parental consent for such material. They have also demanded the that the school system rate educational materials using a labeling system developed by private entertainment companies for purposes of marketing movies and music to the general public. It is these demands that prompted the letter from KRRP, which CBLDF signed without reservation.
The letter lays our precisely why red-flagging and rating books is so problematic:
While the idea of rating books may have some superficial appeal, rating materials will stigmatize and deter the teaching of valuable works of literature, invite ongoing controversy, and ultimately undermine the quality of education students receive. Content warnings raise the same constitutional issues as removing books because someone “dislike[s] the ideas contained in those books.” Rating books for “objectionable” content influences how readers read and understand texts and will inevitably discourage the use of these books in the classroom, depriving students of valuable educational experiences.
According to the district’s online calendar, the school board meets on October 20. If any further information becomes available, we’ll post updates. In the meantime, the entirety of the letter CBLDF signed follows.