Letter to the Nixa School Board – June 17, 2022

June 17, 2022

Nixa School Board President
Linda Daugherty
301 South Main Street
Nixa, MO 65714

cc: Dr. Gearl Loden, Superintendent

Dear Ms. Daugherty and Dr. Loden,

As Missouri librarians and members of the Missouri Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee, we would like to express to you our concern over the number of challenges being made to books in your district. We understand that a nationally-connected special interest group representing a vocal minority in your district recently presented to you a list of 17 books for potential removal from your collections. It is also our understanding that the majority of those books were retained, and for this we would like to support your judgment. That said, we are concerned that other decisions made about removal or restriction could cause harm to the trust that youth have in the schools they attend, as well as youths’ ability to pursue inquiry and access materials.  The books that were marked for removal, Fun Home, and All Boys Aren’t Blue, are both memoirs by prominent and celebrated Queer artists and authors. Homegoing, which it is our understanding is subject to restricted access, is a work by a Ghanian-American author that touches on complex themes about race, history, colonization and slavery. We trust that as educated people, you can see the common thread here: Celebrated authors from historically marginalized communities are being challenged for political purposes that have nothing to do with protecting youth. We ask you to consider why someone would want to restrict access to these perspectives, particularly as our social context becomes increasingly global and interconnected. We ask you to consider if restricting or removing these works truly serves youth in your district. We would further note that students in the district have already voiced their support for the challenged materials, which should be of equal or greater consequence to these considerations than the complaints of specific groups of parents.

As you know, challenges such as these are part of a national campaign to undermine civil rights and the social progress of LGBTQ and BIPOC populations, and to block access to the perspectives of historically marginalized people by young readers who may share those identities, or who seek to build greater understanding of experiences different from their own. Please find attached the MLA’s recent statement on intellectual freedom. In it, we outline the necessity of protecting the opportunities for access to diverse perspectives of which our youth avail themselves to be well-rounded citizens and empathetic participants in contemporary society. As with other challenges in the state, we ask you to consider the irreparable harm that undermining intellectual freedom causes to youth and their trust in public institutions that come between them and attempts to understand their world.

These challenges represent ill-founded and disingenuous attempts by anti-democratic organizations to curtail young people’s access to diverse perspectives and experiences. These incredibly damaging political actions are obfuscated by concerns about “protecting children”. Removing Fun Home and All Boys Aren’t Blue does not, certainly, protect LGBTQ+ youth, who need access to authentic representations of Queer experience to provide context for growing up in a predominantly “straight” society, just as cis/heterosexual children benefit from perspectives like Bechdel’s or Johnson’s that help them empathize with and understand the broader scope of human experience. Putting Homegoing behind the desk and requiring permission to access it does not help children interested in learning about African history or gaining access to authors writing that directly confronts the ills of slavery and racism on the world stage. In fact, these infringements on the intellectual freedom of youth in your schools cause only harm, and we would assert, do so as part of an agenda that is antithetical to the purpose of public education itself.

We request that you consider a moratorium on removing or restricting access to works from your collection, particularly doing so as a result of petitions by individuals or local groups who are known to be associated with national anti-intellectual-freedom action groups. Groups such as these are attempting to undermine the expertise of educators, the agency of students, and the good faith of parents across the state of Missouri and the nation. The goal of these groups has nothing to do with the well-being of parents and students in your district and is instead part of an unfortunate “culture war” that continues to drag public institutions into protracted battles that waste public resources and undermine the general public good.  We support those teachers, librarians, and employees working toward maintaining and promoting inclusive library collections, and those who cultivate spaces for free inquiry and curiosity to flourish in schools. We support parents working to promote access to materials in your district and applaud their efforts to support their kids during this fraught time. We lament the amount of abuse, stress, and other negative consequences students and hardworking teachers and librarians suffer as these regrettable censorship campaigns continue. Please support your students by reconsidering your recent decisions to remove Fun Home and All Boys Aren’t Blue, and to restrict access to Homegoing.  Please support intellectual freedom and put these items back on the shelf.

Signed,

Joe Kohlburn

MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee 2022 Chair

Colleen Norman

MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee 2023 Chair-elect

Tiffany Mautino

MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee Past Chair (2021)

Casey Phillips

MLA-IFC Member/ Social Media and Communications

Ying Li

MLA-IFC Member

Kris Dyer

MLA-IFC Member/ Legislative Liaison

Kimberly Moeller

MLA-IFC-Board Liaison

Otter Bowman

Missouri Library Association President-Elect

 

Attachments:

MLA Statement on Recent Challenges- http://molib.org/mla-statement-on-intellectual-freedom/

 

 

Letter to the Wentzville School Board – June 9, 2022

June 9, 2022

Wentzville School Board President

Mr. Daniel Brice

280 Interstate Drive

Wentzville, MO 63385

cc: Dr. Curtis Cain, Dr. Danielle S. Tormala, Superintendent (Present and Future)

 

Dear Mr. Brice and Drs. Cain and Tormala,

We have been informed that your district has again chosen to remove work by LGBTQ+ and BIPOC authors from library shelves. Per our letter of January 28, 2022, we again must request that you return the book to circulation. The pertinent question for you is not whether certain books are worthy of being removed, the question is what actual good comes from removing materials? As we implied in our previous letter, one pragmatic reason librarianship as a profession insists on intellectual freedom and not banning or removing certain books based on their content is precisely that doing so becomes a protracted boondoggle that slows down and detracts from the important work with which libraries and schools have been historically concerned: supporting and educating students. We are aware of your present predicament with the ACLU and federal courts, negative media coverage, and push back from all sides, and must assume that the extent of the aforementioned boondoggle is clear to you. We, the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Missouri Library Association (MLA-IFC), would like to again formally express our concern as Missouri librarians and intellectual freedom advocates regarding your recent decision to remove Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home. As with the previous attempt to remove Toni Morrison’s work, this is an ill-founded and disingenuous attempt by a vocal minority to control access to diverse perspectives and experiences obfuscated by concerns about “protecting children”. Removing this work does not, certainly, protect LGBTQ+ youth, who need access to authentic representations of Queer experience to provide context for growing up in a predominantly “straight” society, just as cis/heterosexual children benefit from perspectives like Bechdel’s that help them empathize with and understand the broader scope of human experience.

As quoted in a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Dr. Rebecca Wanzo, a prominent scholar and professor at Washington University, says, “ Alison Bechdel is one of the preeminent cartoonists of the 21st century…Her work invites conversations about sexuality, trauma, medium and genre, women in the academy, place and childhood”. This work, much like Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, is critically above reproach. If reporting is accurate, and most of these challenges indeed derive from a single parent, we ask you to consider why one parent (or even one group of parents) should be able to dictate the collections of an entire district. We ask you to remember that Fun Home is a memoir, meaning that Bechdel includes the events of her life as part of the art and narrative of the work based on real events. This means that the details of said events were formative and significant to her, not just as art, but as memories in the course of her life. We further ask you to consider what insight petitioners in favor of removing the work have to the experience of children who might grow up to be more like Allison Bechdel. We question if in fact trying to prevent youth from growing up to live open and healthy lives as LGBTQ+ adults is precisely the motivation for removing the work. Should not LGBTQ+ youth have the same freedom to push boundaries in their reading works like Fun Home, as straight youth have when they read any one of thousands of YA books or graphic novels about people like themselves?

We again request that you codify the depth of your commitment to education as a vehicle to understanding and empathy, and reject this outgrowth of political grandstanding performed at the expense of educators and students in your district. In terms of policy improvements, we suggest striking removal of work as the challenge goes through committee and other processes. If you keep the book on the shelf, we suspect you can undermine much of the motivation for challenges in the first place, which seems mostly to be about political haymaking rather than the good of any student in the district.  We further suggest adding provisions that place a moratorium on petitions from individuals who seek to abuse the process of reconsideration for political or personal reasons judged to be in conflict with the interests of students, teachers, and librarians in the district. We continue to support those working toward maintaining and promoting inclusive library collections, and those who cultivate spaces for free inquiry and curiosity to flourish in schools. Please support your students by reconsidering your recent decision, and putting Fun Home back on the shelf.

Signed,

Joe Kohlburn

MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee 2022 Chair

Colleen Norman

MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee 2023 Chair-elect

Tiffany Mautino

MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee Past Chair (2021)

Casey Phillips

MLA-IFC Member/ Social Media and Communications

Ying Li

MLA-IFC Member

Rachelle Brandel

MLA-IFC Member

Kris Dyer

MLA-IFC Member/ Legislative Liaison

Kimberly Moeller

MLA-IFC-Board Liaison

Otter Bowman

Missouri Library Association President-Elect

 

Attachments:

Letter from MLA-IFC- January 2022- https://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/books-and-literature/letter-from-missouri-library-association-to-wentzville-school-board-president/article_5583141d-3148-5ce8-a516-86d95395b9ec.html

STL-PD Article on Fun Home Challenge- https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/wentzville-school-board-bans-another-library-book-for-sexual-content/article_83f7a559-cc8c-5848-ae26-2e0d77234add.html

Board Minutes- https://go.boarddocs.com/mo/wsdr4/Board.nsf/Public#

MLA Statement on Recent Challenges- http://molib.org/mla-statement-on-intellectual-freedom/