Editor’s note: the following guest column was written by Alice Wellborn, a retired educator and former member of the Transylvania County Board of Education.
The American Library Association celebrates the freedom to read during Banned Books Week, this year from Sept. 18-24. This year’s theme is “Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us.” In 2022, attempts to remove certain books from libraries is at an all-time high.
“The unprecedented number of challenges we’re seeing already this year reflects coordinated, national efforts to silence marginalized or historically underrepresented voices and deprive all of us – young people, in particular – of the chance to explore a world beyond the confines of personal experience,” said the ALA president.
Book banning has long been a tool of censorship popular with authoritarian governments.
Controlling information is the easiest way to control people. China, Turkey, Hungary, Russia, Saudi Arabia are all regimes that suppress any information that opposes the authoritarian leadership.
In the United States, most books that attract protest are by Black or LGBTQ authors and/or about Black or LGBTQ history and experience in our country.
Parents also frequently protest about sexual content in books.
Attempts at censorship are mostly based on content that a person or group finds objectionable according to their own personal beliefs and values, and often turn into campaigns to impose one set of beliefs and values on everybody else.
The group Moms for Liberty, for example, demands that school libraries and school curriculum reflect only their beliefs and values, which often do not reflect what mainstream American families want for their children.
So, the question becomes, liberty for who? Protection for who? Are some children more valuable than others? Are some families more important than others?
In North Carolina, the curriculum and standards at each grade level and in each high school course are determined at the state level.
There is a State Board of Education, a State Superintendent of Schools, and a State Department of Public Instruction.
Educational decisions are largely made at the state level, not by county school boards.
If parents are concerned about the Standard Course of Study in North Carolina, that information is easily accessible on the N.C. Public Schools website.
The guidelines for school media centers are also available on that website.
Parents can learn more about curriculum and instruction at the local school or classroom level in several ways.
Schedule a teacher conference. Look at the school and classroom websites. Join the School Improvement Team. Review assignments and homework on a daily basis. Volunteer at the school. Monitor grades on Power School. Do the work!
If parents disagree with an assignment, they can make an appointment with the teacher and ask for an alternative assignment. When teachers and parents work together cooperatively to meet children’s needs, both schools and students are best served.
In 2022, it’s hard to understand why groups like Moms for Liberty focus on books. Books are no longer the main source of information and entertainment for students, and schools use a variety of resources for instruction.
Moms for Liberty claim that public schools indoctrinate children. Indoctrination is defined as teaching children a particular set of facts and beliefs that they never have the opportunity to question, and denying children the opportunity to hear different perspectives and form their own opinions.
That does not happen in Transylvania County Schools. In fact, Moms for Liberty are demanding that schools allow them to indoctrinate children with their “facts” and beliefs.
Students are mostly exposed to inappropriate content online and on social media, not in books.
Students are mostly exposed to inappropriate content at home, not at school. American mainstream culture and entertainment are full of violence, cruelty, vulgarity and sex, and it is largely served up on television, movies and social media that children and teens access at home.
If parents are concerned about protecting their children from inappropriate content, then parents must be responsible for monitoring and controlling what their children see and do online, both on computers and on smart phones, at home. Parental rights depend upon parental responsibility. Again, do the work!