Highlights from the book ban hearing

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On April 7, 2022, the Civil Rights and Liberties Subcommittee (under the House Oversight Committee) held a hearing to learn from those affected by the huge wave of book bans and of disputes. The American Library Association reported this week (also National Library Week!) that 1,597 individual books were challenged or banned in 2021.” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) is the chair of the committee, and chairman of the Minority (GOP) for this hearing was Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC).

The hearing was divided into two parts: the first part for the students and the second part for all others. The “everyone” included a teacher, librarian, parent, author, and college professor. The first four generally overlapped, with the parent also being a former educator and the teacher being a mother of two children. Members of the Congressional committee interviewed the adults in part two, but not the students in part one.

Although the committee heard from one person on academic censorship (the professor), it required (and had) an entirely separate committee hearing. Not only is the higher education structure completely different, but only one speaker, Jonathan W. Pidluzny, was featured. He was the only minority (Republican) witness and was out of place during the interrogation. For this reason, I focus on the testimony from K to 12, the questions and answers that make up the bulk of the hearing.

Panel 1: Students

Three public school students (one from Washington and the others from Pennsylvania) were the first to testify. Shreya Mehta, a Washington state official, explained that book bans are driving a culture of fear.

“Support the fact that it is not politicians, but librarians and educators in partnership with the students they serve who are best suited and trained to cultivate an age-appropriate collection of books and serve their diverse student body . Please make this last generation of marginalized young people who have to grow up and feel invisible and ashamed of themselves.

Two senior student leaders from the Panter Anti-Racist Union, Olivia Pituch and Christina Ellis, have shared how they and other students came together to organize after the York Dispatch covered mass book challenges in the district center of York. They realized that the banned “split resources” were mostly stories about people of color and the LGBT+ community.

Ms. Olivia Pituch, a high school student from York County, Pennsylvania, speaking on April 7.  (Picture: screenshot.)
(screenshot)

Pituch spoke about the need to be seen and how if she had more access to LGBT+ books, she might not have felt so alone. Later, Ellis shared the microaggressions and racism she faced throughout her schooling as one of the few black female students.

A slide show at the beginning of the year inviting students to “be nice” is not enough.

Panel 2: Opening statements from educators and parents

Librarian Samantha Hull of Pennsylvania noted that many young people with mental health issues feel like they don’t belong and that various materials in classrooms and libraries can help. “If a student has a strong reaction to a book, it may be the start of a conversation with family or a trusted adult about the topic that caused the reaction.”

She pointed out that the publishing industries reflect the broad issues facing young people today, encouraging them to speak out for themselves. Although she said the library is a safe space, “feeling safe isn’t always the same as feeling uncomfortable. Growth does not necessarily occur when we are comfortable. She concluded on the importance of access to information and conversation as a cornerstone of democracy.

Mrs. Samantha Hull, librarian in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Picture: screenshot.
(screenshot)

A high school teacher (English and women’s and gender studies) and mom, Jessica Berg from Virginia, began by explaining the political rhetoric and threats in addition to the underpaid and overburdened teaching profession. which led her to consider leaving the profession last December. Berg ended by saying that some have ruined the parent-teacher relationship due to political divisions and they don’t come for a meeting with the teachers. “They go straight to the school boards and shout.”

Berg shared excerpts from student notes throughout the year and explained that the recurring theme was gratitude for feeling like their voice matters and they have the power to stand up for what they’re in. believe.

[Political pundits] I don’t want everyone to feel like they have a voice. The status quo is based on silence. Not only does the banning of these stories and the censorship of the story prevent students from finding their voice, it negatively affects my ability as a teacher to communicate with my students in a meaningful way. […] What divides us as human beings is infinitely different from what unites us, but it’s the books you ban.

The witness parent, Mindy Freeman, introduced herself as a former educator, someone who was recorded as both a Republican and a Democrat in her life, and the mother of a trans teenager. She explained that they raised her daughter to follow her interest regardless of gender, but after a 4th grade lesson on puberty, they had to start parenting.

I want to be clear, if there is one sentence that comes out of my appearance here today, let it be this one. No book turned my child transgender any more than a book could turn his eyes from brown to blue.

After Freeman reached out, his daughter’s teacher recommended they read the award-winning book (constantly banned) lemon balm by Alex Gino (then named george.) Freeman spoke of the value to her as a parent, her child, and her child’s peers in understanding this experience with accessible, age-appropriate LGBTQ+ literature books on the shelves.

Melissa by Alex Gino.  Previous titled 'George.'  Image: scholastic.
(School)

Ruby Bridges

One of the youngest faces of the civil rights movements, Ruby Bridges, is best known for being the first child to desegregate Louisiana’s public schools. His stories have been immortalized in films, books, paintings and many other mediums. His 2009 primary school biographical book Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story is under review and banned in several districts across the country. Right-wing activist group Moms for Liberty says the book makes white children “uncomfortable”.

Bridges noted that she receives letters from people of all races thanking her for telling her story and that the story needs to be told, even the uncomfortable parts. Bridges’ novel was one of many targeted in the unwarranted post-summer 2020 backlash of Black Lives Matter.

Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story by Ruby Bridges.  Image of her as a child.  Image: scholastic.
(School)

Examination

Republicans

Republicans Byron Donalds (FL) and Mace used their time to ask (almost exclusively) yes-or-no questions to Hull, Berg and Freeman. Representative Donalds asked who approves programs and purchases in their states before concluding by saying that taxpayers should decide independently of the expertise of librarians. After allowing Donalds to speak over time, President Raskin noted that the U.S. Supreme Court case against Pico (a case that ended in a plurality) said councils could not remove the books due to disagreement over ideas.

Rep. Mace tried to downplay censorship by pointing the finger at public libraries (which also face censorship) and stores. When questioned, Hull replied by referring to accessibility, particularly in transport and student income. Hull noted that some children do not feel safe reading at home or in classrooms. Most of the other questions from Mace and then (all) from Jim Jordan were unrelated to the conversation.

Democrats

Rep. Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) began by noting soaring anti-Semitism and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment before reading Spielgman’s article Maus. Rep. Schultz asked Berg how a hearty “Don’t Say Gay” bill would affect his ability to teach. Berg explained that students “saw the writing on the wall” and one student said, “I’d rather kill myself than not be who I am.” Berg continued, “It absolutely affects me as a teacher because I carry that with me.”

Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) did not use her time to interview the guests, but instead told personal stories (of her and her son) of how seeing herself reflected in the stories has effects on the real world. When Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) asked how long each complaint and/or book challenge took to resolve, Hull noted that it took 10 to 30 hours (my calculations based on her worst and best screenplay) per book. Berg said that as a teacher, she had to take these meetings out of contract time (before or after school) or during the planning block she normally uses for grading and lesson planning.

Conclusion

Overall, half of the Republican questions either were unrelated or downplayed the seriousness of this problem. While many of the Democrats’ questions included softball questions or no questions (Tlaib), more information was given. I’ve been covering this for months and watched hours of teachers discuss their frustration on TikTok and more. Yet there was much to be gained from hearing the stories of these people, especially educators.

If you want to watch the audience, it’s on YouTube. It’s not as silly as the one starring Ted Cruz or any other normal clown, however, there’s still a lot to learn. This is probably already happening in your neighborhood, regardless of how they vote.

(image: Alyssa Shotwell)

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