WASHINGTON — A U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee panel examined Thursday why thousands of books, mostly written by marginalized authors, were banned from public schools, and the impact of those actions on students and teachers.
“Most of the books targeted by the censorship are books that introduce ideas about diversity or our common humanity, books that teach children to recognize and respect each other’s humanity,” the Sous president said. -Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Committee, Rep. Jamie Raskin. .
Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, cited a new report by PEN America – an organization that campaigns for the protection of free speech – which found from July 2021 to the end of March this year, more than 1,500 books were banned in 86 school districts in 26 states.
Books…offer a mirror to readers so that they can see themselves reflected in some way, whether it be their gender, race, culture, identity or experience, and it makes them feel less alone in the world,” she said. “When I think of frequently contested books, the only connection I see between them is that they are the books that give voice to the most marginalized in our society.
– Jessica Berg, teacher in Loudoun County, Virginia
The report found that of the banned books, 467 – or 41% – contained main or supporting characters of color; 247, or 22%, dealt with racism; and 379, or 33%, of the books contained LGBTQ+ themes.
Raskin held up a children’s book that administrators tried to remove from school libraries. The book was written by Ruby Bridges, a civil rights icon who was the first black child to desegregate an all-white school in Louisiana. Bridges, who was 6 at the time, was a witness at the hearing.
“The truth is, children of color or immigrants rarely see themselves in these textbooks that we’re forced to use,” Bridges said. “I write because I want them to understand the contributions their ancestors made to our great country, whether that contribution was made as slaves or volunteers.”
Her book, “This Is Your Time,” is being reviewed for possible removal to a Texas school district. Books written about his story have been banned from classrooms in Pennsylvania.
High school students speak
The hearing began with the testimony of several high school students.
Olivia Pituch and Christina Ellis, from York, Pa., said it’s important for students to see books written by authors who are people of color, LGBTQ+, black, and Indigenous people, and with characters from marginalized groups. .
Pituch, who identifies with the LGBTQ+ community, said if she had been able to access books with queer representation, she would have “been able to hug me and love me a lot sooner.”
“I deserve to walk into my school library and find a book with someone like me,” she said.
Ellis, who is black, said books that focus on characters of color also benefit white students, so those students are educated about different cultures.
She explained how, growing up, her classmates made fun of the Caribbean food she brought from home and how her classmates and sometimes her teachers touched her hair.
“Books that highlight our differences and teach others how to deal with diversity are crucial,” she said. “Books can help children learn about various cultures and ways of life.”
Mindy Freeman, a parent from Pennsylvania, said a book called “George (Now Melissa)” was able to help her daughter, then a fourth grader, understand what she was going through as a transgender girl. Freeman said her daughter’s access to an age-appropriate book gave her the support and exposure she needed.
“No book made my child transgender any more than a book could have turned his eyes from brown to blue,” Freedman said.
Freedom of Speech on Campus
The Republicans on the panel, Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and Andy Biggs of Arizona, focused on free speech on college campuses and argued that those places were unfriendly to conservatives.
Biggs asked Republican witness Jonathan Pidluzny what steps should be taken to ensure conservatives are not blocked from speaking out on college campuses. Pidluzny is vice president of academic affairs for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, an organization that supports free speech in universities.
“We have to learn to tolerate the speech we abhor,” Pidluzny said.
No book made my child transgender any more than a book could have turned his eyes from brown to blue.
– Mindy Freeman, a parent from Pennsylvania
Two Republicans, Representatives Byron Donalds of Florida and Ranking Member Nancy Mace of South Carolina, questioned witnesses about district decisions about the school curriculum and decisions by school administrators to ban the books.
“Taxpayers should have the ability to review these documents because they are paying for them,” Donalds said.
He, along with Mace, argued that there were other ways for students to obtain books, such as buying them or going to a public library.
“They can get a book from a lot of different places,” Mace said. “Is there anything that prevents a child from going to a public library? »
Two of the witnesses, Samantha Hull, a librarian from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and Jessica Berg, a teacher from Loudoun County, Virginia, said not all students have the financial means to buy books or have adequate access to transportation to get to public libraries to read books where they see themselves represented.
Berg said the visceral attacks on education from Republicans almost caused her to quit her job. She said she received death threats from members of her own community as well as continued questioning about her expertise.
“Books…provide a mirror for readers so they can see themselves reflected in some way, whether it’s their gender, race, culture, identity or experience, and that makes them feel less alone in the world,” she said. “When I think of the frequently contested books, the only connection I see between them is that they are the books that give voice to the most marginalized in our society.”
Mace agreed that history, especially “problematic chapters in our history”, should be taught in schools, but said books dealing with adult subjects expose young children to inappropriate topics.
“We should be teaching critical thinking skills,” Mace said, adding that she was troubled by reports that colleges are “stifling speech to coddle young adults.”
Tennessee book ban
Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, held up a Holocaust graphic novel that was the latest book to be banned from Tennessee classrooms, “Maus.” She said that with the rise of white nationalism, anti-Semitism and racism, books like “Maus” are now more important than ever.
“We know that fanaticism is learned,” Wasserman Schultz said, adding that “we also know that it can be unlearned.”
She asked Hall what removing books like “Maus” and those with diverse characters does to students.
“It’s my opinion when books are deleted…students are deleted,” Hall said. “They feel that their identity is not valued in school and outside of school.”
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., asked no questions of the witnesses, but expressed concern about the discrimination her two Muslim sons might face growing up.
“Our children, they just want to exist as they are,” she said.