Woman experiences a tense encounter with her Uber driver who refuses to allow books in his car

During my Uber ride, I shared with a journalist the disturbing news about book bans. “PEN America has noted a staggering 3,362 instances of book bans in public schools for the 2022–23 academic year,” I revealed. “Florida alone accounts for over a thousand of these bans. This is a critical issue that demands urgent attention!”

After ending the call, my Uber driver glanced at me through the mirror. “You seem knowledgeable about books and schools,” she remarked. “Perhaps you can offer me some guidance.”

“My seventh-grade daughter recently brought home a book titled Gender Queer from her school library visit. She expressed a desire to read it to me at bedtime. While I’m not overly conservative, my young daughter, who still enjoys Disney movies, was suddenly exposed to content discussing ‘standard methods of masturbation’ and imaginary sexual acts. At the age of twelve! I have restricted her iPad from adult content, so why is the school librarian allowing her access to such material?”

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“Well,” I responded, “it’s essential to maintain perspective. We encounter kissing in Harry Potter and Snow White. Does that trouble you?”

She gave me a disbelieving look. “Do you not see the distinction between a kiss and this explicit material?” she countered. “I reached out to a parental group regarding this book, and they confirmed that it wasn’t just my concern. Other parents have reported instances where preteens are exposed to adult-like content in library books. They attempted to address this with the school board, but were silenced—the board deemed it too explicit for discussion!”

“I can’t help but wonder if your reaction would be the same if the book did not revolve around a queer character,” I suggested.

“Are you kidding?” she retorted. “Do you believe I would accept my seventh-grader reading about sexual devices if the characters were heterosexual? What gives you that impression?”

Explaining certain subjects to novices can be a challenge.

“In our educational institutions,” I clarified, “we advocate for inclusivity and the presence of LGBTQ+ representation in libraries and reading lists…”

“That’s all well and good,” she interrupted. “But I’m sure there are books featuring gay characters that align more with the tone of Harry Potter or Snow White and less with adult content. Why are those not available in my daughter’s middle school library?”

Her understanding was limited. “In school libraries,” I elaborated, “we believe librarians should not censor students’ reading choices.”

“But school libraries do not stock publications like Penthouse or Playboy,” she argued. “There are countless books available, and I’ve heard that a vast majority of them—around 99.99 percent—are not found in school libraries. I also learned that the author of Gender Queer explicitly stated it was not intended for children. So why is the school fixated on having that book instead of literature designed for younger audiences?”

Shaking my head, I added, “The American Library Association emphasized that ‘banning books limits readers’ exposure to diverse perspectives and ideas. When we champion stories, we unlock the power residing in each book.’ It seemed like a clear statement to me.”

“Perhaps I’m not bright enough to grasp that,” she commented, “but it sounds like a convoluted mess to me.”

I pondered the frustration of attempting to enlighten those resistant to understanding.

She persisted, “I heard on the radio that the Biden administration pressured Amazon to cease selling books criticizing vaccines during the pandemic. Where were your librarians then? That seems like a censorship issue worth protesting about.”

“I’m certain they had a substantial workload,” I responded.

“And didn’t some Dr. Seuss books cease publication due to perceived insensitivity in the illustrations? Once again, where were these librarians?” she inquired. “I’m no expert, but that sounds like genuine censorship. I’m not suggesting books on certain topics shouldn’t be available; I simply don’t want such material in my middle-schooler’s library.”

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“That argument is a distraction,” I pointed out. “If we allow parents to dictate reading materials, some might oppose crucial high school texts like Beloved, Huckleberry Finn, or The Bluest Eye for addressing issues such as racism and assault.”

“That’s simply absurd,” she dismissed. “If you can’t differentiate between explicit content in a children’s library and complex literature intended for seventeen-year-olds, there’s a major problem. If we were discussing those high school texts, your point would be valid. But we’re not.”

“It’s crucial to establish clear boundaries,” I emphasized. “That’s why PEN America clarifies that ‘if a book that was previously accessible to all now requires parental approval or is limited to an older grade level than initially determined by educators, that constitutes a ban.’

“Hold on a minute!” she interjected. “Now I’m thoroughly confused. The school district has communicated that they have taken the advice of the School Library Journal and removed numerous books from our K–12 summer reading lists, including To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, Lord of Flies, and several Shakespeare works. Isn’t 1984 partly about book censorship? And they’re removing it! It’s ludicrous.”

“No, no, no,” I sighed, massaging my temples. “They’re not banning these books—they’re ‘refreshing the canon.’ The School Library Journal doesn’t advocate for banning these books. Students can still borrow, purchase, or read them. They simply believe these texts should not be officially recommended by schools. They’re advocating for alternative options.”

“Hmm, are you really listening to yourself?” she questioned. “How is that any different from what I’m raising? Why is it considered ‘refreshing the canon’ when you suggest removing renowned books from reading lists, but ‘book banning’ when I oppose pornography in my daughter’s school library?”

I gave up. Some individuals are steadfast in their views on banning books.

Frederick Hess is an executive editor of Education Next and the author of the blog “Old School with Rick Hess.”

The post My Uber Driver, the Book Banner appeared first on Education Next.

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