These days there's no shortage of stories like this one from Florida in the news.
Sixteen books have been removed from school library shelves after a local group determined they were “inappropriate” and contained “obscene material.”
This developed amid a “dramatic uptick” in challenges to books involving racial and LGBTQ issues, according to the American Library Association.
The books include The Kite Runner, written by an author from Afghanistan, and two books written by Toni Morrison, an acclaimed African-American author.
That is a classic case of book banning.
But the big story from this week is the one about a school district in Tennessee.
A Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel about the Holocaust has been banned by a Tennessee school district, prompting blowback from critics who say it's essential to teach children about the genocide.
The 10-member McMinn County School Board voted unanimously earlier this month to remove Maus from its curriculum and replace it with an alternative, which hadn't been decided at the time of the vote.
While we should challenge this decision on its merits, the question we should all be asking is whether removing a book from a school's curriculum is the same as banning a book. It clearly isn't.
Teachers and schools must upgrade the material used in their curriculums all the time. That is especially true when it comes to teaching children about race and gender. If you doubt that, just take a look at what Garrett Epps wrote about what he was taught growing up in Virginia schools.
Just as the McMinn County School Board was removing "Maus" from their curriculum, the Mukilteo School District in Washington was removing "To Kill a Mockingbird" from theirs.
Late Monday, the school board voted unanimously that “To Kill a Mockingbird” should not be mandatory reading for ninth graders...
It is the first time in about 25 years a request was made to the board to remove a book from the curriculum. High school English teachers Verena Kuzmany, Riley Gaggero and Rachel Johnson asked for the removal in September, citing the novel “celebrates white saviorhood,” “marginalizes characters of color” and “uses the ‘n’ word almost 50 times.”
Here's where context matters. In the Mukilteo School District, each grade has one book that is required reading. For 9th graders, that book has been "To Kill a Mockingbird." But it's time for an update. Similar actions on that particular book have been taken from Burbank, California to Biloxi, Mississippi. In none of those school districts has "To Kill a Mockingbird" been banned (ie, removed from the library) and in most places it is still on approved lists for teachers to use. It is simply no longer required reading for every student.
Burbank Superintendant Matt Hill asked the pertinent questions: "Do we have books that represent, not just white authors, or do we have people of color authors of multiple races and backgrounds? Do we have a diverse set of books that our students can access?" Those are the kinds of adjustments schools have been in the process of making - ensuring that students get exposed to a diversity of authors. There is no shortage of classics that fit that description.
If we aren't clear that these kinds of updates or changes to curriculum are very different from attempts to actually ban books, we confuse the issue and open the door to bothsiderism, ie, both liberals and conservatives want to ban books. That would be a lie.