The rise of “parents’ rights,” specifically the “right” to direct the upbringing of children, came with the belief, among some parents, that it includes being able to tell schools what to teach or what students can read.
Before the rise of parents’ rights of this nature, parents who had a problem with a particular math or reading curriculum or how a teacher was teaching specific learning standards would engage the school or teacher in constructive dialog about it. Nowadays, what often happens is that parents either post lists of books derived from other parents’ lists on social media or bring those lists to school board meetings, begging school board members to remove specific books from libraries.
By far, the books most often on these lists involve the subjects of racism in the US or LGBTQ+ themes, which many parents find inappropriate for their children. That’s not how high school students see it, though.
“On paper, not letting kids read certain books with excessively mature subjects makes sense and may sometimes be necessary for young groups of students,” opines Maddy Mewett in the student newspaper at Crofton High School in Gambrills, Maryland. “However—unfortunately to the surprise of some people—transgender people are not an ‘excessively mature subject’ that merits the banning of a book or material.”
Advocates generally agree that how appropriate certain books may be is a function of the age of a parent’s child.
“There needs to be room for discussion of things like age appropriateness and readiness—that’s perfectly legitimate,” the New York Times quotes Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of PEN America, as saying. PEN America opposes book banning and released a report in September listing some 50 advocacy groups pushing to ban books during the last school year. “But that’s not what this is about.”
What it’s about is conservative groups trying to destroy the public school systems in the country by closing books and then the minds of students in their most formative years. Furthermore, the old-fashioned approach of banning books may backfire in a technology-enhanced world, where children know how to read whatever they want. When it backfires, children who can read will remember the groups that spared no effort to keep information and learning away from their eyes and minds.
“Protecting the innocence of children should never justify banning particular categories of books; rather, this trend would create a stifling atmosphere where some voices are dominant whereas some are censored,” write Ela Jain and Jessie Ji at Lake Forest Academy in Illinois. “It reflects a society’s prejudice, obstructing everyone to see themselves in literary works with the portrayal of a diverse set of voices.”