A school district in Los Angeles County, California has ruled that some of America’s greatest works of literature, including “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and “Of Mice and Men,” are to not be taught in schools.
Calls to ban books have echoed across social media following the rise in complaints over “hate speech.” On Wednesday, US retail chain Target removed “Irreversible Damage,” a book by Abigail Shrier, following complaints from a trans rights activist over the book’s apparent promotion of “transphobia” in its criticism of incredible rises in the cases of transgenderism in teenage girls.
The Burbank Unified School District ruled that Theodore Taylor’s “The Cay” and Mildred D. Taylor’s “Roll of Thunder” are also to be removed from the district’s curriculum.
“The BUSD’s reading list hasn’t been revised in three decades,” the LA Times reported.
The decision by the districts was initiated following complaints of four parents who alleged that the novels had caused potential harm to their children, Newsweek reported. One parent, Carmenita Helligar, claimed that a white student harassed her daughter, using racial taunts including the N-word after reading “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.” She added that another boy had ridiculed her daughter, stating: “My family used to own your family and now I want a dollar from each of you for the week.”
“When the principal was notified, the boy’s excuse was that he had read it in class — also in ‘Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.’ Helligar believed the principal was dismissive of the incident,” the LA Times reported.
“My daughter was literally traumatized. These books are problematic … you feel helpless because you can’t even protect your child from the hurt that she’s going through.” Helligar added.
Nadra Ostrom, Another parent who filed a complaint, stated, “There’s no counter-narrative to this black person dealing with racism and a white person saving them.” She argued the curriculum assumes “that racism is something in the past.”
But Sungjoo Yoon, 15, a sophomore at Burbank High School, created an online petition on Change.org in response to the ban, writing:
In a time where racism has become more transparent than ever, we need to continue to educate students as to the roots of it; to create anti-racist students. These literatures, of which have been declared “Books that Shaped America” by the Library of Congress, won Newbury Medals, and are some of the most influential pieces, cannot disappear.
The National Coalition Against Censorship wrote BUSD, “We believe that the books… have a great pedagogical value and should be retained in the curriculum.”
PEN America (Poets, Essayists, Novelists) created a petition writing:
We the undersigned object to the news that several books dealing with the subject of race in America—Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Theodore Taylor’s The Cay, and Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry—have been temporarily banned within Burbank public school classes, while the Board determines whether or not to ban them entirely. We call upon the district to lift the temporary ban and allow these books to be taught in Burbank classrooms.
Each of the books in question deal with difficult subject matter from our country’s complicated and painful history, including systemic racism. In a year when we have seen a national movement against systemic racial injustice, it is crucial to bring these subjects into the classroom with care and sensitivity, which teachers are well-equipped to do. Blocking engagement with these important books is also avoiding the important role that schools can and should play in providing context for why these books inspire and challenge us still today.
We understand that this ban may have been proposed with good intentions. But banning books is not the answer. Informed guidance from trained educators would allow students to learn about their world and themselves from these book’s challenging stories and ideas in a supported space.