Despite a recent victory in another Texas library, Dallas News reports that Highland Park High School removed seven books that were formerly on its approved reading list. The suspensions occurred as a result of packed school school board meetings, during which some parents came with flagged copies of books to protest, and packed email inboxes, as the same parents sent countless emails to the school district. Interestingly, other parents in the community have formed a group to help fight against these challenges.
The books that were suspended in Highland Park include a diverse array of contemporary classics: 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). Alexie is a perennial favorite among teachers, readers, and would-be censors and seemingly challenged at every school: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was most recently challenged in Brunswick County, NC, where access to the book was restricted. An Abundance of Katherines writer John Green is also no stranger to book challenges, as his other works Paper Towns and Looking For Alaska have faced multiple challenges.
Parents challenged these books on the grounds that they believe that students should not be exposed to controversial adult topics such as sex, rape, abuse and abortion. The books have not been completely banned from the school — Students can still check them out of the school’s library or read them during free time — but Superintendent Dawson Orr suspended the books from the high school’s curriculum until they can be reviewed by a committee of parents, teachers, and students.
Carol Wickstrom, former English teacher and an education professor at University of North Texas explained the ongoing struggle of book challenges to Dallas News:
“If we look at Shakespeare, we can find those issues in those texts. There are allusions, or we don’t always understand the language used because it’s language from another era.”
She explained how the use of contemporary language, especially in young adult novels, makes the subject matter stand out more when compared to classic literature. Wickstrom went on to explain that there is a delicate balance when dealing with book challenges:
“It isn’t easy,” she said. “You have the parents who don’t want their child reading X-Y-Z and you have the parents saying ‘That’s wonderful. I didn’t want to have that hard conversation.’ So teachers are put into difficult situations, and they have to make difficult decisions.”
Laurie Dodic Steinberg and Natalie Davis, two parents of Highland Park High School students, promptly organized a meeting to help combat the book suspensions and support the school system’s English teachers. Steinberg expressed her concern that exploring these heavy topics in the classroom helped prepare students for college and the real world. She told Dallas News:
“These books could have the potential to make some people uncomfortable, but having our children grow up in the sheltered environment — The Bubble — our children need to be exposed to different ideas and ways of life for others,” she said. “We’re doing a disservice to our students if we don’t broaden their minds and let them know more about the outside world.”
In the midst of Banned Books Week, it is unfortunately not surprising to read about another book challenge in the country. Deputy Director of the American Library Associate for Intellectual Freedom, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, points out that Banned Book Week often coincides with book challenges because it is the beginning of the school year, when parents are receiving their child’s syllabus.
There is some hope to be found in the Highland Park High School suspension: Parents are fighting back. Attempts to ban books are rarely successful when people speak out against them. Hopefully, this sets a positive example for parents who disagree with book challenges and ensures that the books are not banned from the school! We’ll keep you updated as more information becomes available.
Eric Margolis is a 2014 St. John’s Law School graduate. You can contact him at EricMargolis310@gmail.com!