Shouldn’t parents have a voice in what books they want their kids exposed to?
Parents should and do have a role in their kid’s education, not only in the home but in the school and community. Whether in parent-teacher conferences, PTA meetings, or school board meetings, there should be open and accessible channels of dialogue for educators, school admins, parents, and students to communicate and voice concerns, including school reading materials. Additionally, parents do have the option to opt their children out of lessons or readings they don’t feel are appropriate for their child. Though, one should unpack why they are opposed to such readings/lessons or what biases they may have.
However, book bans in libraries and classrooms don’t just affect one child. They aren’t implemented in a neutral or unbiased way. They are driven by a particular set of values or views that are then enforced onto all students. And no parent has the right or sway to control what another parent’s child or what the entire student body has access to read and learn in school.
Despite the rise in book bans and restrictions, they are largely unpopular, with 70% of parents opposed to banning books in public libraries, trusting that librarians make “good decisions” in their collections both in public and school libraries. And a majority of these recent book challenges come from a small network of people. Of the 2021-2022 book challenges, 11 people filed 60%. “Serial filers” mainly came from conservative parent groups like Moms for Liberty.
This is far more than just exercising one’s rights as a parent.
These challenges target books featuring characters of color or focus on issues of race and racism but more often have LGBTQ+ characters or themes. The top reason cited for book challenges is “sexual” content, though queer stories are often labeled as sexual simply for mentioning gender identity or sexuality.
They ignore how their existence, identity, and ideologies are not the only ones. And that erasure of LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and otherwise diverse stories is the erasure of the lived experiences of the students and parents frequenting the same school systems, taking away students’ ability to learn about the world and themselves and empathize with others.
Are parental rights just for white, straight parents?
Again, having an active role in your child’s education and what they are exposed to is important. But a parent’s opinion should not supersede that of other parents or that of librarians and educators who rely on “tools that are created and sustained by professionals in education, in librarianship, in child development” to craft a quality education (PBS).
And according to the National Coalition Against Censorship, “Even books or materials that many find ‘objectionable’ may have educational value, and the decision about what to use in the classroom should be based on professional judgments and standards, not individual preferences.”
Banning books based on a few excerpts doesn’t protect children. It only limits their learning. And removing LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and other marginalized stories or issues will not erase them from existence nor prevent students from learning about race, racism, gender identity, or sexuality. It will, however, prevent them from discovering it in a more safe, accepting space.