Leander ISD removes more books from the program
PEN America is once again calling on a Texas school district to change course after administrators announced they had removed extra books from high school curriculum choice lists.
In April, the US branch of the nonprofit Literature and Free Speech Association joined in an outcry from authors, educators and parents over several books the district has released. removed or “suspended” from playlists in Leander, a suburb north of Austin. On August 5, he released a second statement after the district quietly announced it had pulled more books.
Latest books to be released include Red At The Bone, MacArthur Fellow and Former National Ambassador for Children’s Literature, the New York Times bestselling novel by Jacqueline Woodson, and Ordinary Hazards, the verse memoir by Nikki Grimes, which have won several awards from the American Library Association. . Books deleted or “paused” in previous rounds targeted several graphic novels, including versions of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Shirley Jackson’s iconic short story The Lottery in 1948, as well as the Kiss Number 8 on the LGBTQ theme.
“This is a sad day for literature and for free learning for students,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free speech and education for PEN America, in an Aug. 5 statement.
In an interview with Book and Film Globe, Friedman noted that the books in question had already been approved as part of a program overhaul aimed at inclusion and led by professional educators. School officials must be extremely careful, he said, of a “small minority who decide what everyone should have access to.”
Leander officials began reviewing books after some parents complained that titles on their high school book club pick list were inappropriate for teens. “Whenever parents are concerned about the material being offered in our schools, LISD does everything possible to listen, engage and correct the course if necessary,” the district told Book and Film Globe in April. A spokesperson said on Aug.6 that the district was unable to immediately respond to PEN America’s most recent statement.
At a board meeting in February, an angry parent brandished a sex toy while complaining about Carmen Maria Machado’s award-winning memoir In the Dream House.
Machado responded in a May 11 essay published in The New York Times: “While our books may contain potentially uncomfortable, difficult, or even offensive passages, exposure to our books is vital for expanding minds, affirming experiences, creating an appreciation for the arts and developing empathy – in short, respecting the adults that students at Leander, Texas will soon become, ”she wrote.
The district initiated an eight-cycle process with hybrid educator / parent groups to review 140 books, initially posting results after each cycle. He posted the batch of results from the last four cycles together. Each entry includes details of potential hotspots and often enlightening vote totals for whether reviewers felt the book should stay.
While 80% of district critics said Machado’s book met program standards, for example, the district still removed him from the book choice list. 88% of reviewers felt Woodson’s Red At the Bone met the criteria for a spot, but admins removed it as well. Critics in the district rang Shout, the acclaimed memoir of National Book Award finalist Laurie Halse Anderson on the consequences of her own sexual assault and its lingering effects, for her “negative portrayal of men” and her portrayal of PTSD.
The continued censorship at Leander is emblematic of national debates about inclusive curriculum, both in English classes and how race intersects with history, Friedman noted. In June, PEN America released a joint statement with more than 140 scholarly associations denouncing legislative pressure in several states to restrict race courses.
“What’s distinctive about this situation at Leander is that it’s about literature, which means it’s about the imagination, it’s about the possibilities,” Friedman said. “It’s not just an effort to curb the way we teach about the past, it’s also trying to curb the way we think about our future. It is very alarming.