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Saturday, April 13, 2024
Opinions generic
Opinions generic

The dreaded inevitable has finally happened. We have an ever-growing list of book challenges at Eastside High School. School libraries — bastions of diversity, enrichment, inclusion and democracy — are under attack. There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said. I have no words to magically shift the momentum of this legislation. Still, I can no longer remain silent. 

Book banning is censorship and discrimination. It limits access and opportunity. A recent amendment to the parental rights bill states any book containing sexual acts may be removed if challenged by a resident of the county. 

However, the overwhelming majority of books currently being challenged depict the experiences of marginalized communities. To put it bluntly, this law is being used by non-parents to remove books that deal explicitly with topics of race, gender identity and homosexuality. 

As an English Language Arts teacher, I have witnessed the power of a story. Over and over, I see students empowered when they are represented in a text. I receive emails from students saying a book has changed their lives and lifted them from despair. I see tears from the ending of a play or a moving passage. I listen to intelligent and civil discourse arising from global issues presented in literature. 

Many of these texts deal with death, discrimination, dysfunction, violence and yes, race and sexuality. 

HB 1557 and 1069 infringe on my parental rights by preventing access. I encourage my children to explore the world through literature. I want my teenagers to read about difficult topics and sexuality. I do not want my children to feel there is anything objectionable or shameful about same-sex relationships or an honest inquiry into both historical and contemporary racism and injustice. I respect the fact that other parents do not share these values, and there are policies in place to ensure that their children will not be forced to read books they find objectionable. 

These new laws go far beyond that and instead prevent anyone from being able to access these books through their school libraries. In Alachua County, one citizen has submitted 16 of the 18 book challenges. The books this single person deems inappropriate are meaningful to many, many others. Why are our children’s access denied because one citizen finds these books offensive? The Florida laws for book banning are an egregious legal and moral overstep of my parental rights. 

These book challenges purport to be about freedom, but are in fact about allowing a vocal and fearful minority control over the education of other people’s children. They are about silencing diversity and dissent and making already marginalized lifestyles invisible. They create an atmosphere of fear, censorship and shame. If this legislation were truly about parental rights, there would be a much different approach. 

For instance, Alachua County has taken concrete steps to protect parents’ rights concerning their children’s exposure books. Parents may sign a form restricting access to books and other materials they do not want their children exposed to. This form can be found on the SBAC website under Media and Instructional Materials. 

Mass censorship is not protection. 

We must do better for ALL our children. Censoring books does not protect our children from the world. Seeing yourself, your struggles, your joy and your pain represented in literature can be a life-affirming experience. I suspect the purpose of these book bans is to deprive marginalized youth of this validation. 

Eliminating books that explore topics of race, gender identity and homosexuality emboldens intolerance. It makes our most vulnerable young people feel more lonely and less safe. According to the CDC, suicide rates for LGBTQ+ populations are substantially higher at 25% compared to 5% for heterosexuals. 

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Many studies posit that LGBTQ+ youth are not inherently prone to suicide because of their sexual orientation. Rather, they are at higher risk because of mistreatment and social stigmatization. Censoring books that validate and celebrate LGBTQ+ experiences is legally sanctioned intolerance and discrimination. 

Banning books is intellectually lazy and mean spirited. For those in our community wasting time completing book challenge forms and reading provocative excerpts at school board meetings: If you are sincerely interested in enriching the lives of young people, come to our schools. We need mentors. We need bus drivers and substitute teachers. Banning books does nothing to improve children’s lives or the culture of schools. You are not protecting children. You are protecting ignorance and narrowmindedness while harming our most vulnerable youth.  

Amanda Lacy is an Alachua County High School Teacher.

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