Book banning and even book burnings are on the rise. The American Library Association reported 330 book challenges in the fall of 2021. And those are the ones that schools reported. Other studies show that schools often report only those challenges that made it to a board meeting.
Many formal requests aren’t reported. For example, an analysis of 100 school districts in Texas found 75 book challenges in four months. The previous year one book was challenged in the same four months.
So what is a teacher to do? If you have a large classroom library and a parent challenges a book, here are five suggestions.
Explain to Parents and Students Why the Book is Important
Let parents know what makes the book important to students. For example, a ban that has been in the news recently is Art Spiegelman’s Maus for its graphic depiction of conditions in the concentration camps. But how else can a graphic novel about the Holocaust depict a concentration camp?
Or if parents object to a Captain Underpants book (yes, that has happened), point out that sometimes kids will become readers through books they can relate to (and what 4th grader doesn’t relate to potty humor?)
A separate lesson to students early in the school year about how books serve as mirrors and windows. A “mirror” book will help readers see themselves in a reaffirming way. “Window” books teach us how to see the world from someone else’s point of view.
Give Parents the Opportunity to Request a Book
Another option is to let parents take the book home and read it. Or tell them you will put the book off-limits for their child.
A preemptive tactic is to ask the parents if keeping the book out of general circulation is acceptable. If they are not satisfied with that, you have two choices—remove the book for the school year or refuse.
If you refuse, be prepared for an official challenge.
Help Parents Be Allies
Not every parent wants to ban books. They might not want their child to read some books, but they also recognize that banning books is counterproductive. Other parents will go further and realize it is their responsibility to monitor what their kid is reading.
Reach out to those parents. Give them suggestions from organizations like X on what they can do.
Provide them links to sites like X so they can explain to other parents why a particular book shouldn’t be banned.
Most importantly, thank them. They are the silent majority willing to speak up.
Attend School Board Meetings
I know what you’re thinking—another meeting. But it only takes a few vocal parents to create a media storm.
You can show your support for those parents willing to take what might seem an unpopular stand. And you are there to talk to the media.
Parents who tell you they want to speak up at a meeting might want to read 7 Tips for Parents Who Want to Speak Out at School Board Meetings.
If you have a student who is willing to take a stand, give them a copy of the Speaking at School Board Meetings Guide for Students
Don’t engage in politics. Book banning is not a left or right issue. It’s about the First Amendment. As the American Library Association wrote,
“The Supreme Court reaffirmed that the right to receive information is a fundamental right protected under the U.S. Constitution when it considered whether a local school board violated the Constitution by removing books from a school library.”
Remember that Book Banning Goes in Cycles
We are currently in a cycle where book banning seems commonplace. However, this cycle of bans will wane. Eventually, parents who want to ban books will move on to another cause. Or their kids will leave the school system.
“Two steps forward and one step back” applies to book banning. Books that were banned as too realistic, such as S. H. Hinton’s The Outsiders or Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War, now seem tame. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume was often banned since it addressed girls’ concerns when they reached puberty.
Unfortunately, you might have no choice but to remove a book from your classroom library—now. But the pendulum will swing, and soon there will be other books that speak to kids about the topics and ideas in the book you might be required to pull.
Unfortunately, even your best efforts might not be good enough for a determined parent. Open a dialogue, listen to the parent’s concern, and educate them why you think the book should remain in your library.
If the parent is insistent, offer to place the book off-limits to their kid or remove it from the shelf and monitor who can check it out. If none of these options satisfy the parent, it’s decision time. Do you want to fight the ban or remove the book until you are no longer the child’s teacher?
If you choose to fight the challenge, be prepared to argue for the book’s merits to the level your parent decides to go. You need to decide if this is a battle worth fighting. Removing a book from a classroom library doesn’t have to be permanent. Once the child is no longer in your classroom, what’s keeping you from putting the book back on the shelf?