The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

Book Bans and Censorship

Curation, curriculum, and clubs support student literacy
Photo credit: The Parker Weekly

“Almost any book worth teaching has been banned somewhere,” Upper School English teacher Matt Laufer said. As a former teacher of the English elective Literature and Censorship, Laufer has had lots of experience teaching banned books in his curriculum. He describes these books as often “counter cultural” or “avant garde.” 

According to the American Library Association (ALA), 30% of book challenges in 2022 came from parents, followed by patrons at 28% and political/religious groups at 17%. Laufer believes that many book challengers don’t actually read the book in question due to the difficult subject matter and are acting based on what they’ve heard about the book. After having not read the book, according to Laufer, book challengers often “assume” that it would be best for young people not to have access to it. Book banning “is a kind of a paternalistic impulse to save people from themselves,” Laufer said.

According to Pen America, an organization advocating for free expression, the books that are being challenged in the US are overwhelmingly written by or about LGBTQ+ people and people of color. Parker’s Kovler Library strives to represent these perspectives in the books that they offer. Library and Information Services Specialist Annette Lesak said, “Our community wants to see books that represent all races, all genders, all backgrounds. So, we strive to have books in our collection that represent everybody.”

The library staff is constantly assessing the books in their collection and deciding what to change. When choosing books to add to the library, Lesak looks for books that are popular, best-sellers, support the curriculum, and books that students would enjoy reading. However, as there is limited space, Lesak must decide which books to remove from the collection. Books that have outdated or incorrect information and books that are physically damaged often get removed and replaced with another book. For example, “Little House on the Prairie” was removed from the library a few years ago due to outdated and offensive language and low readership, among other reasons.

Lesak believes that, in general, there is no place for censorship within Parker. However, working in a library that serves JK through twelfth grade students, she is mindful of the books that students check out. “I do think that there is a place for developmental, and I really hate the word, like, it’s funny, but I’m going to use it: developmental appropriateness.” She gave the example that if a second grader is trying to check out a Stephen King novel, she would have a conversation with the student about whether they are ready to read it, whether their parents know they want to read it, and she would recommend another scary story that is closer to the second grader’s reading level. Lesak works with students to find books that align with their age and reading level with the understanding that the books will remain in the library for them to read when they are ready.

Similar to the library, the English curriculum has evolved in many ways as a result of “hard choices,” Laufer said. Around 2009, students were concerned that there were too many books in the English curriculum reflecting the Black dysfunction narrative, even though they were written by Black authors or were anti-racist books. The English department made changes to their curriculum as a result. For example, in the 11th grade American Literature curriculum, Laufer decided to teach “Sula” instead of “The Bluest Eye,” which are both by Toni Morrison.

The English department has discussed the n-word’s role in literature courses. Parker allows for nuance and individuality in teaching styles and curriculum based on many factors. It is up to each English teacher to weigh these variables and think about how the curriculum will impact the class. Laufer asked, “given the moment, given the composition, maybe it’s gender, maybe it’s racial, maybe it’s class composition, is it going to do too much harm?” This is a question he has had to contend with in the past in regards to the n-word.

Laufer describes his former self as a “purist” and would, with the intention of respecting an author’s choice, assign books with the n-word and allow students to say it while reading aloud. He would even say it himself in an effort to not censor the literature. However, his stance on saying the n-word in a classroom has changed, and he doesn’t say it aloud anymore in his class. “I think that in this particular time and place and given who I am, it’s not a word that I wish to say out loud. And that would have surprised the younger me,” Laufer said.

In October, sophomore Eva Jakobe held the first ever meeting of the Banned Books Club. During this meeting, the assembled group ate cupcakes while discussing the current landscape of book banning. Jakobe announced that the first book that the club would discuss was “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe. It is a graphic novel about Kobabe’s experience growing up as an LGBTQ+ teen. Lesak said that graphic novels are especially “triggering” and are therefore becoming more and more susceptible to book bannings. 

“I started the club just as a way for us to respond as the Parker community in a way that’s really honoring these authors and their work,” Jakobe said. She also hopes to treat the club as a vessel for social action. 

While Parker has often supported and uplifted commonly banned books through its curriculum, library, and the newly formed Banned Books Club, many schools across the country have imposed book challenges. A loss of literature means a loss of intellectual freedom. Laufer described this as a “chilling effect,” noting that it impacts not only what can be read, but also what can be discussed in a space. “I think that has endless effects in terms of how we can see in a real way the problems in our culture, how we can anticipate possibilities in the future,” Laufer said. “All of those things get circumscribed and narrowed if we aren’t looking at a set of things that make us uncomfortable.”

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About the Contributor
Uma Morris
Uma Morris, Features Editor
For her Junior year, Uma Morris is thrilled to be this year's Features Editor on "The Weekly." After publishing her first article at the start of her sophomore year, she fell in love with pitching, interviewing, and writing for "The Weekly," and she looks forward to being a part of the editorial process! When she isn't grinding out articles at 1:00 in the morning, you can find Uma reciting her poetry (on stage as well as in front of her bathroom mirror), singing in grape jam, or sitting on the soccer bench :)