How K-12 book bans affect higher education

Cultural wars have long been waged in both colleges and K-12 schools, with ideological opponents fighting for freedom of speech, academic freedom, and even the politics of fried chicken chains. But the renewed battle for books has led some higher education staff to worry about students’ willingness to study in colleges as school boards across the U.S. remove complex texts from the K-12 program.

Some are concerned that not only high school students are suffering, but also junior high school students, in whom the passion for reading may die down before they can fully explore the literary world.

“If you want kids to enjoy reading, you let them read whatever they’re interested in, and kids are interested in what’s in the forbidden books,” said Katie M. Newman, an English professor who heads the forbidden books. Project at Carnegie Mellon University. “They are interested in sex, they are interested in sexuality, racial and racial disputes.”

But parent groups across the U.S. have made waves and headlines protesting against the inclusion of some books in public school curricula. Scholars also note the concerted efforts of conservative political groups such as Moms for Liberty, which have ties to deep-pocket conservative donors. Often, critics say, books are challenged – for example Gender Queer: Memoirs or Stamp: racism, anti-racism and you-racial or sexual minorities at the center of the story. Scholars say the problem is exacerbated by outrage at the critical theory of race allegedly taught in public schools.

Understanding the battle

According to the American Library Association, in the three months from September 1 to November 30, 2021, more than 330 problems with books were reported to the Bureau of Intellectual Freedom. This is more than twice the 156 problems reported in 2020. The ALA noted in an email that not every problem is reported, meaning that these numbers essentially represent a simple fraction of requests to remove or restrict material from U.S. libraries and classrooms.

Although ALA figures show that problems with books are growing, scholars studying the issue believe it is a new effect of strengthening social networks that allows like-minded parents and political groups to pick up on general outrage.

“People have always challenged books, but only in the age of social media can you interest many people who are not in this area, interested in the book you are challenging,” Newman said.

Emily Knox, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who studies how banned books point to racial anxiety as a source of many recent problems. Many of the books being attacked at the K-12 level, she explained, are the work of various authors who offer a look at marginalized and underrepresented people. For many white parents, these books represent a different understanding of the country in which they grew up.

“In many ways, it’s a reactionary worldview,” Knox said. “While it’s conservative in the sense of ‘it’s not the way I’ve been taught that the world is, I’m trying to preserve history the way I understand it.’ The books they challenge often challenge the status quo – they challenge the idea that the main protagonist is a white man. These books really focus on people who are not usually focused when it comes to works of great literature or history. ”

Cal Allston, a professor of education and dean of academic affairs at Syracuse University, noted that some of the books being challenged are recommended to be read for Advanced Placement classes in high schools, such as Tony Morrison. Beloved or Purple color from Alice Walker. (Alston’s name has been corrected in this paragraph.)

“These are texts that have been used in high school literature lessons for decades,” Allston said.

She worries that supporters backed by shadow organizations are using controversy over a critical theory of race not taught in public K-12 schools as a way to demand control over the curriculum and then the narrative in American education. According to her, these requirements will limit students’ familiarity with new ideas and the development of critical thinking.

I think that if we followed this logic of “parents should control the curriculum”, we would be in a worse place for students entering college because it is not only critical thinking that is necessary for college students to succeed, but also independence thinking, ”Allston said.

Teaching Forbidden Books

When the Tennessee school board removed the famous graphic novel Mouse from the high school program, citing obscene swearing and one image of being naked, the news flew around educational circles, causing outrage and increasing sales of the book by Spiegelman, a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Scott Denham, a professor of German studies at Davidson College, was one of those angry with the news. But instead of talking about it on Twitter, where he first learned about the controversy, he decided to offer a free course for affected students, a class that will officially begin next week.

“They created this anti-Semitic structure, making it harder to teach the Holocaust,” Denham said of McMin County School Board’s decision to abandon Mouse from the curriculum. He added that he believes such a move is an extension of the superiority of white and Christian nationalism.

He will now teach Mouse for area students interested in studying Holocaust history, the structure of Holocaust stories, and how graphic novels and comics work as a literary genre.

As part of the Forbidden Books project at CMU, Newman also teaches an undergraduate degree where her students research difficult books, developing and publishing a digital history of these disputes. She describes the topic as “a place where culture and politics come together”.

Students often come with varying exposure to heavy books, Newman said. She recently taught at Kate Chopin Awakening and Zora Neil Hearston Their eyes were on God– two books that are often disputed – which about a quarter of her students read in high school. She said students are more likely to come across such books at elite or private high schools or at librarian activists.

Teaching controversial books can be a challenge, but Knox sees growing pain as a vital part of learning.

“Part of the educational process is to face difficult things,” Knox said. “This process starts with discovering new ideas. And it really should happen when you go through classes. Part of being a student prepared for what society needs and what it means to be a good citizen is that you come across these ideas that you may or may not agree with, but these are ideas that help you think more attentively and with more nuances and empathy for the world. That’s part of the problem with deleting these books. “

Fallout at the College Board

Disputes over the K-12 curriculum are also unfolding within the ranks of the college council. Todd Houston, speaker of the Indiana Republican House of Representatives, recently resigned as senior vice president of state and district partnerships on the College Council amid a Twitter campaign that called his role in promoting Indiana law that bans teachers promote “separating concepts”. and may cost educators a teaching license to do so.

Opponents have condemned the bill, sparked by a reaction to the CRT, for “forcibly removing Indiana’s school curriculum”, arguing that it undermines both local control over schools and restricts discussion of complex topics.

The College Board declined to answer questions about how problems with books recommended for reading for AP classes could affect college readiness. College Council President David Coleman announced Houston’s resignation in an email to staff that did not mention the Indiana bill controversy and praised his prowess as an employee and leader.

“Todd Houston recently let me know that the demands of both his role here and his chosen position are not sustainable, and he wants to devote more time to his work in the Indiana House of Representatives. Todd leaves the college board with a number of extraordinary accomplishments in fulfilling our mission. At the same time, Todd shone as a leader inside – he is widely admired as a great boss, ”Coleman wrote in an email to staff.

The Houston office did not respond to a request for comment, but it did make a statement The star of Indianapolis: “Since taking up the post of Speaker of the House of Representatives, I have pondered how best to balance the enormous level of responsibility required for my essential role on the College Council and as a civil servant. In the end, I decided to leave the family board of college. “

What lies ahead

Knox believes that American society is at a turning point when demographic change and racial minorities become the majority. The current struggle with the curriculum will not stop any time soon, she suspects, adding that such painful issues as, for example, how to train the uprising of January 6, 2021, have not been resolved.

“This is just the beginning of this real struggle we will be waging, I suspect many years to come, for what our society looks like and how we teach history,” Knox said.

And Knox has additional concerns about the message sent to students, especially those who may be marginalized, and the problems it can cause for them if they find themselves. She thinks of the pain of being a Jewish student in McMinn County or part of another affected group.

“What do these problems say to children who have these individuals?” Said Knox. “So if your school bans Gender queerSure, you can get it online, but what does that say about adults in your community? What do they say about you if you happen to be a non-binary child? ”

But as parents, teachers, school boards and political organizations fight for the way forward, Newman urges concerned observers to remember the power of their voice.

“If people don’t like the decisions that school boards make, unfortunately, one of the answers is that people need to be more involved in local politics,” Newman said. “There is probably no worse political job in the world than being on a school board. Almost never pay, it’s hundreds of hours a month, it’s thankless. But these disputes point to the political importance of local control, and school boards are a great place to get involved in politics. It should make more people. ”

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