Letter to Editor: Concern over book is a time for civil discourse
I am writing to express my concern over the potential book banning of “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas along with concerns about book censorship in general. As a Language Arts teacher at Del Norte High School, I see book banning anywhere as a threat to equality in education everywhere. I fully support the inclusion of this book in the curriculum and commend this teacher for the willingness to teach such a complex novel with such timely themes.
The censorship of books happens when one group disagrees with its material based on ideological objections. In a free, democratic society, this is morally reprehensible as well as counterproductive to the exercise of free thought. To clarify, I am not suggesting that individual persons or groups should not be able to hold their own values and morals, nor that they should not be allowed to dictate for themselves and their children the information to which they are exposed. The problem lies in allowing one person or group to decide for the whole, which expressly goes against the very idea of democracy and of a democratic education.
Does the book in question contain strong language? It does. That presents a perfect opportunity to discuss the power of language, something certainly no high schooler in a public school is new to experiencing from peers on a daily basis. Does the book in question contain a storyline that involves distrust for police? It does. And aren’t we seeing and hearing plenty of distrust for our leaders–police force, politicians, or otherwise — that surely our teenagers are no strangers to, whether hearing it from their own parents, peers, news stations, etc? The question should not be how do we silence these differing opinions, but rather how do we respectfully and appropriately voice distrust and concern with various leaders and authority figures?
And what about the redeeming qualities of the story? The book deals with the complex issues of adolescents’ struggles to fit in, the importance of transcending one’s situation to make a better life and more wholesome choices, how individuals can challenge societal stereotypes and judge people based on their character and personhood rather than skin color or any other assumptions, and the importance of a community coming together for the betterment of all. I cannot think of more timely and imperative themes to discuss with today’s adolescents.
To those challenging this book, I humbly ask you to consider, if the school board were to move forward with this banning, where do they stop? And according to whom and whose specific set of values are these bans made? Are you suggesting they solely be based on your ideology? Therein lies the problem. Would you want a different group of people motivated by entirely different morals and values from yours to decide for you or for your children what can or cannot be read or accessed? I anticipate the answer is a resounding no, and I would encourage you to apply the same standards to your egregious demand to have “The Hate U Give” banned.
Rather than remove the book from the school library or take it off the curriculum, there are several other steps that could be taken. First, it is entirely reasonable to offer students an alternative selection. This does not dictate for the entire group what can or cannot be read, neither does it force any student to read a book his/her parents deem inappropriate. However, an even more effective approach than that course of action would be to provide some guiding discussion questions to encourage parent participation in the material at home. For any controversial topic (which, let’s face it, can be anything in our current political climate), the best way to go about it is not to ignore the controversy but rather to engage in civil discourse regarding the topics and perspectives. This is not something our current society is particularly good at, but it can be taught in an appropriate manner that maintains respect and encourages appropriate sharing of all perspectives.
After all, isn’t that the goal of public education? Isn’t that what supposedly makes our melting pot of a nation so wonderful? Thankfully, we aren’t all robots who believe exactly the same thing, and thankfully we all have that freedom to choose what those beliefs are. Banning books goes against that important ideal and fails to teach our children, the next generation, how to appropriately face and discuss controversy and opinions that differ from their own. Let’s be the adults in the room and walk them through that, not through censorship based on one group’s ideals, but through encouragement of civil discourse and respect for other perspectives.
Del Norte Language Arts Instructor