The nationwide wave of efforts to censure literature has reached the shores of the Tri-Town area through the recent actions of a small minority to ban certain publications in our ORR junior and high school library. This should come as no surprise to any of us, given the antics of this small but very vocal national minority over the last two years. Across this country, certain politicians and parent groups have continued to gaslight, bully and divide by challenging books that represent experiences of marginalized and oppressed communities of which they are not a part. These same groups have been challenging curriculum with the unfounded assertion that “CRT and transgender” are being taught in an age-inappropriate manner.
This battle represents the age-old struggle between First Amendment rights of the U.S. Constitution protecting both students’ rights to know and learn and teachers’ rights to academic freedom against a parent’s right to protest books or materials they perceive as damaging to their children. Either way, it is divisive and serves no purpose other than to further marginalize members of our minority communities locally.
A parent has every right to object to a book, its subject matter or content if it offends their religion, sense of morality or political view; or if they believe the book contains material they perceive as offensive. What parents do not have the right to do is dictate and attempt to impose their beliefs on others — which is what a certain small faction of our community has attempted to do with the attack on certain pieces of literature in our school’s library from which they have cherry-picked content and considered it out of context. What is allegedly offensive to one, may not be offensive to another and the remedy is not to ban or pull books from our library because a loud minority disagrees with its content. The majority of a community should not be deprived of a learning experience and be adversely impacted because a minority of parents believe certain literature violates their moral standards. They are entitled to their opinions and beliefs, but stop attempting to impose it on others.
Our school district and superintendent have processes in place to address these concerns and provide remedies. The most extreme remedy, of course, would be to home-school your children, shelter them and never allow them to be exposed to different points of view and diversity of the student body and experiences. The least restrictive remedy is to simply not have your child read the book. Complete a form, give it to the librarian and your child can’t check out the book. While they may no longer have school access to this material, if a parent believes this will solve the problem, they are delusional. With the click of a mouse and one google search, their child has access to just about any content they want on the mini supercomputer called an iPhone/Android. Moreover, the content a child would have access to outside of the school library could be far more “offensive,” of little if any educational value and far more misleading than the literature to which certain individuals in our community were objecting.
Growing up as a minority in this community and having faced some of the bullying and marginalization this type of behavior creates, I believe it is imperative that we allow kids to have access to literature in our schools which represents a broad spectrum of experiences for those who may be struggling with identity, whether that be children of color, gay, straight, bi, asexual or transgender. It may be an uncomfortable truth for those who don’t understand other’s experiences growing up facing prejudice, confused about their feelings, being bullied, made fun of or excluded because that child does not understand who they are. Not to be cliché, but no one knows another’s reality until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes; and to discount that reality further by stigmatizing literature that may speak to them, but not you, is wrong. As an example of this, studies show that LGBTQIA youth are not inherently prone to suicide risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Rather, they are placed at a higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society.
Removal of the literature that has been objected to by a small minority of people in this community would only serve to further mistreat and stigmatize our minority student population, which our school committee, with the help of the superintendent and our skilled librarians, have all worked so hard to welcome by providing a diverse range of reading materials. Suggesting that this literature contains “offensive” content sends the wrong message to these kids that they are not important; that we do not recognize their issues are real; or that we do not care that they may be experiencing life differently than others. It is an overt attempt to further deny these students the opportunity to be seen, to be heard and to have their realities acknowledged, not denied.
Public education and free speech are just some of the many of our freedoms under attack by these minority factions. They will not stop until they are stood up to, opposed and defeated. Let’s send a message to our community that we are better than this. Because we are better than this.
Nicole Demakis is a Mattpoisett resident.