The case for and against removing books from schools.
Like many districts around the country, the OCS Board of Education has been contending with citizens who want to have certain books removed from classrooms and library shelves.
The case against removing books from school is founded on these arguments:
- Extremist parents want to remove any materials that mention sex.
- LGBTQ students need books in school that they can relate to.
- Why remove books when kids can get much worse content on the Internet?
Most parents agree on the underlying premise of each of these points. They agree that it would be good for all students to have books they can relate to. They agree that it's too extreme to ban any materials that mention sex. They agree that kids can easily get worse materials on the internet.
Why, then, is there a conflict between citizens who want to remove books and citizens who want to keep them? Let's examine each argument.
Claim: Extremist parents want to remove any materials that mention sex.
OCS school libraries and classrooms have hundreds, maybe thousands of books that depict, mention, describe, allude to, and acknowledge sex. The vast majority of these books are not challenged by OCS citizens.
Below are examples taken from books/assignments currently in OCS schools which have been challenged by local citizens:
These are just a few examples from each book. Most of the books which have been challenged are rife with this type of content.
In some cases, an argument could be made that "this is just part of life, why hide it?" While this may be AN argument for providing students with books that depict prepubescent boys playing together with their genitals, it's surely not a good argument. And there are plenty of reasons that showcasing a pedophile's fantasy (naked boys playing in bed together) is not good.
If adult men go around talking in social circles about a woman's "cooz", they are considered creeps in our society. If they do this behavior in a workplace, they would be fired. This type of behavior is unacceptable for adults according to sexual harassment laws, every workplace code of conduct, and community standards everywhere. It would never be tolerated in any public context for adults.
What, then, is the argument that this crass portrayal of sexual relationships should be presented as fun, normal, and even empowering for our youth?
OCS citizens are not asking to remove every book that has any notion of sex or sexuality in it. Take, for example, this passage from the unabridged version of Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl:
“…Until I was eleven or twelve, I didn’t realize there was a second set of labia on the inside, since you couldn’t see them. What’s even funnier is that I thought urine came out of the clitoris…When you’re standing up, all you see from the front is hair. Between your legs there are two soft, cushiony things, also covered with hair, which press together when you’re standing, so you can’t see what’s inside. They separate when you sit down and they’re very red and quite fleshy on the inside. In the upper part, between the outer labia, there’s a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That’s the clitoris…”
The context of this passage is clearly not "hyper-sexualized", crass, or otherwise generally inappropriate or offensive.
An argument could be made that for some age groups, this description might be a distraction or make some feel uncomfortable. Perhaps teachers and parents could make a case-by-case decision on how to approach these challenges.
But nothing about this passage is the type of content that OCS citizens are challenging in schools.
The previous examples above, which are only a few out of dozens that have been found in Orange County Schools libraries, are clearly over the line of what is inappropriate. They contain page after page, chapter after chapter, sexually-graphic literature and illustration.
It's important to note that parents are not attempting to generally "ban" any books. Individuals and parents should be free to choose any content they want to consume, bring into their own homes, and share with their own children.
Claim: LGBTQ students need books in school that they can relate to.
This is a valid point. Regardless of their identity, every child should be supported, affirmed, and loved. Citizens are not asking that all books with LGBTQ themes be removed. They have only asked that the books that contain hyper-sexualized content be removed.
The argument that we should not ban any books for the sake of LGBTQ students presents a logic challenge that is easy to solve:
- If: LGBTQ books should be curated into school libraries so that LGBTQ students have books they can relate to.
- And: All hyper-sexualized books should be removed, regardless of their theme.
- Then: Hyper-sexualized LGBTQ books should be removed.
Yes, that means some portion of books with LGBTQ themes (or any other theme) may be removed.
Note: There are individual exceptions to the generalization that citizens and parents are ok with keeping LGBTQ-themed books in school. However, to date, no book has been challenged in OCS schools because it had LGBTQ themes.
Why remove books when kids can get much worse content on the Internet?
Community standards are not an extreme idea. They are all around us, and most of us abide by them.
Many restaurants and shops require men to wear a shirt in order to enter. Yet, any of us can go on the internet and find pictures of men with no shirts anytime we want.
Obviously, the standard is not in place to protect people from ever being exposed to men with no shirts. The standard is in place to create a basic level of decorum that most people can agree on. Some people like to wear no shirt in public, and many people don't care if men don't wear shirts. Yet, we all agree that we'll wear a shirt when we go to restaurants to respect people with various opinions on the matter.
Instagram has a policy that restricts users to only posting photos and videos that are appropriate for a diverse audience. What is a diverse audience? Simple: it's an audience with widely varying sensibilities for what is "appropriate" vs "inappropriate". Their policy recognizes that some people want to share nude photos, but that "for a variety of reasons", they have a strict restriction on posting nude photos. Do you think the decision makers at Instagram know that nude photos can easily be accessed on other apps and websites? Why have this policy if it doesn't protect people from accessing nude photos?
Simple: the purpose of the policy is not to protect people from accessing nude photos. The purpose is to create an experience that meets the needs and standards of a diverse audience.
We know that many teenagers drink alcohol. We know that most teenagers have easy access to alcohol, oftentimes provided by parents who see nothing wrong with giving alcohol to teenagers. However, because something is prevalent, readily available, and sanctioned by some parents, it doesn't mean it should be installed in our schools.
A K-12 public school provides education for a diverse range of families and students. Yes, some students want to consume books and media that depict teen-hookup dating and graphic sexual encounters between teens and adults. And yes, some parents approve of this.
However, community standards are not put in place to satisfy the most permissive sentiments found in the community. Instead, they are guidelines that are designed to make an environment safe for a diverse range of sensibilities.
If we're talking about individuals and their own families, these questions make sense:
- Are you a shirt-should-be-required person, or not?
- Are you a lets-share-nudes person, or not?
- Are you a lets-let-teens-have-alcohol person, or not?
In the context of community, however, better questions might be:
- Are you a person who is ok following the standard of wearing shirts in restaurants, to respect those around you, regardless of your opinion?
- Are you a person who can agree to not share nudes on Instagram, regardless of your feelings about sharing nudes, in order to respect the diverse community?
- Are you a person who can agree that we won't give alcohol to kids in our community, regardless of your feelings about giving alcohol to your own kids?
On the subject of hyper-sexualized content in schools:
Are you a person who can respect that, in our diverse community of families, many do not agree with their K-12 children having access to books at school that depict teen hook-up dating or sexual encounters between adults and teens... regardless of whether or not you think these things are ok for you or your child?
What should be done?
OCCIE is committed to doing our part to have a positive impact:
This is a topic that OCCIE will continue to research, analyze, and report on.
We're sharing ideas and solutions for our community to consider. In the coming months, OCCIE will publish new analyses and proposals for policies and systems improvements, as well as suggestions for direct action by citizens to help enact change for the better.