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Allow books to 'Speak' to youth who need them in Flagler Schools
When my husband was in the seventh grade at a middle school in Pennsylvania, the mother of one of his classmates came into class one day with a giant box of papers. For weeks, the class helped revise and gave feedback to this mother about a manuscript she was working on. That mother was Laurie Halse Anderson. That book is "Speak" and is currently being brought up for review by Flagler Schools.
In 2007, I picked up that same book in my school library in Florida. I was 16, and I was, as kids put it today, really going through it. That book provided me with a voice. I now knew I was no longer alone in my extremely big, intense feelings, thanks to the bravery of Anderson, and to my husband’s class who years before gave Anderson insight on the reality of being a teenager. People want to challenge "Speak," saying it’s too graphic for youth; the fact is that youth were heavily involved in editing the book.
Children are not fragile, ceramic dolls sitting away in a protective case, only to suddenly be thrust into the real world when they are 18. They are humans right now before they hit that magic age of 18, hungry for knowledge and living real life experiences daily; experiences that you might not even be aware of.
Instead of shielding them away from the lived reality of the millions of people who came before them in the name of “protection,” if you see a child with a book, why not ask questions? Ask why the child chose the book he or she is reading. Ask for his or her thoughts on the main characters and the plots. If you’re a parent and there are heavy topics, hold space for them and be there for them to ask you questions about those topics. Youth are desperate to connect and share experiences with their caregivers. Books can be a form of that connection and a way for our youth to share their world with us.
I wish my parents engaged with me about the books I read; maybe I would have told them some things earlier, rather than 10 years later when it was too late and we missed that chance at connection.
"All Boys Aren’t Blue" isn’t a book that just any child is going to pick up and read. It is tailored to a specific audience — the kids who need that book — in the same way I needed to hear Melinda’s voice in "Speak." The experiences the narrator lives through in "All Boys Aren’t Blue" are experiences that not everyone lives through, but he so eloquently puts into writing. That book might give another person the courage to speak their truth, the courage to keep on living — all because they now know they are no longer alone in their feelings on this big planet, where days pass by too fast and life can be overwhelming.
Astrophysicist Carl Sagan described books perfectly in his series, "Cosmos": "Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic."
Why should children, especially high school aged children that are nearing legal adulthood, be deprived of that magic at the hands of bickering adults?
Let parents grant access to restricted books
There’s been a lot of debate back and forth about the book “All Boys Aren’t Blue." Some feel it belongs in the school libraries, other do not. Right now, the Flagler Schools policy has not been updated to account for new Florida Statutes, including the Parent's Bill of Rights. Here’s my proposal:
1. Place the book “All Boys Aren’t Blue” in a restricted status. Allow parents to “opt in” their child for restricted media.
2. Any new media that arrives in any Flagler Schools media center is automatically placed in a restricted status until reviewed. If it’s deemed appropriate for unrestricted reading, it receives the unrestricted status. If not, it simply remains in restricted status.
3. Any material that is challenged is immediately placed in a restricted status until reviewed. If the challenge fails, the title is placed back on unrestricted status.
I feel this process strikes a balance between parents' rights and providing age-appropriate material to kids. It prevents the outright ban of media and allows for access if a parent feels the material is appropriate for their kids.
Citizen task force could review books
I don’t favor censorship nor editing a book that has been copyrighted. I do, however, favor parents having a voice or veto over what material is presented to their children.
I applaud School Board member Jill Woolbright for having the courage to force this dialogue. If the viewpoint of educators differs from the viewpoint of many of the parents in the community they serve, the viewpoint of the parents must prevail. I believe this to be such an instance.
A task force of citizens could review books in a list to be available in the schools. Some of the books could be flagged as requiring parental approval to be shared with the students. Everyone’s rights and opinions would thus be preserved and respected.
Banning books is political grandstanding
The School Board once again is kicking up controversy. This time its theatrics are about student library books, and the hysteria is led by Jill Woolbright, who has appointed herself the guardian of literary propriety.
Ms. Woolbright is clamoring for banning four books that apparently don’t suit her, and, in a drama-filled performance, she actually made a criminal referral and submitted as “evidence” to our Sheriff’s Office an award-winning book, considered a “teacher’s pick” by booksellers. Woolbright, viewing through a Victorian-era eye and with a dubious legal assessment, concluded in her opinion that the book was obscene and criminal, although it is unclear exactly where the criminality lies and who the perpetrator is.
The books, three of which were written by Black authors, cover fiction and non-fiction matters relating to racial discrimination and its history, gender identity, LGBTQ+, sexuality and bullying and, according to booksellers and book clubs, were for teens and young adults.
Woolbright is clearly parroting the efforts that have ramped up this year by mostly conservative-led school boards seeking to remove books that teach and tell inspiring and important stories. For Woolbright and others, this isn’t really about kids, or even about students’ education, it’s about their bias and political grandstanding. And purging schools of material that simply doesn’t suit a cultural or political agenda has the specter of 1933 Germany.
Ironically, and what apparently these cultural warrior school boards fail to consider, is that any such book banning efforts will surely backfire because there is little doubt that the best way to get students to read a book is through the notoriety that it has been banned.
Democrats aren’t the ones trying to ban books
Critical race theory is only taught at the college level. If opponents of CRT bothered to actually read the materials, they would see it doesn't teach anyone to hate anyone. It teaches the true indisputable facts our history. No, liberals and Democrats are not trying to erase history; quite the opposite.
There are transgender people in the world. That is a fact. Nobody is teaching anyone how to be transgender, but everyone, including children, have to deal with the reality that they exist.
It isn't liberals or Democrats who are trying to ban books.
It is ironic that the same people saying mask and vaccine mandates threaten their freedom are the ones trying to ban books. Parents have a right to control what their children read; they don't have a right to control what other parent's children read.
Lastly, you don't see statues of Hitler or Goebbels in Europe. Yes, they are part of their history, but they don't glorify them with monuments.
Lastly, it was appalling to see adults yelling obscenities at young people exercising their First Amendment rights at the recent School Board meeting. And no, the ones yelling were not liberals or Democrats.
Restore ‘equity,’ ignore radicals
So, there will be no "equity" in Flagler Schools. The intellectual cowards on the county's School Board, with a single exception, caved into the fringe anti-knowledge zealots, Moms for Liberty, and removed the word “equity” from its strategic goals.
I sincerely doubt that anyone from Moms for Liberty — the most activist of the knowledge deniers — can even define the term "equity" in the context of academic goals. For that matter, I very much doubt anyone from this radical cult could define Critical Race Theory, which they find equally offensive.
But let's focus on equity today and go with the official definition: “Educational equity is the intentional allocation of resources, instruction, and opportunities according to need, requiring that discriminatory practices, prejudices, and beliefs be identified and eradicated.” How is this offensive to anybody?
With the exception of School Board member Colleen Conklin, it seems the entire School Board Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt were more than willing to toss this essential goal out of our school system simply to mollify a radical fringe group.
So, what's next?
Will the cowards on the School Board allow Moms for Liberty to burn books that they have been told (quite obviously they don't actually read them) are “anti-American,” like, perhaps, “Catcher in the Rye,” “Ulysses,” “Uncle Tom's Cabin,” “The Adventure's of Huckleberry Finn,” and anything by Toni Morrison? Will the frightened board members light the torches?
The School Board has shamed itself, embarrassed our county and disadvantaged our children. Equity must be restored to our educational goals, and the rational majority will fight back until this is done.
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