By Debbie Carew
In my wildest imagination I never expected to be harassed and defamed for being an educator, especially one who defends literature and intellectual freedom. But that is what I’m facing for standing up to protect students’ access to a variety of reading and educational materials.
In Brandywine Community Schools where I teach in Niles, four school board members who were elected last November immediately began to enact the extreme agenda of political action committees that backed their election – We the Parents and 1776 Project PAC.
Because I’ve resisted efforts to remove high-quality, diverse books from school library shelves, my name and reputation have been smeared by a so-called “news source” publishing utter falsehoods about me, which are echoed on We the Parents’ and other far-right social media.
You can get the gist of what nonsense it is from the headline of the first hit piece: “Teacher fighting to keep porn in Brandywine Schools.” It feels daunting and surreal to be targeted by extremist propaganda – like living in a dystopian movie that won’t end.
Since January, my school board has instituted unclear restrictions on library books. Then they rejected a sensible plan to let parents opt-out their own children from any book with sexual content.
Last month they passed a convoluted policy to keep certain books away from view and to require librarians to email quotations of only the explicit parts to parents of interested students – a method of “banishing” books which the American Library Association defines as “soft censorship.”
Next they’re poised to send back a grant for $5,000 worth of diverse library books that a teacher colleague of mine, a parent and I secured. It’s incomprehensible. Yet this experience has validated the life I’ve lived and the person I’ve tried to be.
From middle school I knew I wanted to be an educator because I watched my mother – a public school art teacher – nurture lifelong relationships with her students and their families. I, too, wanted to build strong relationships and share my passion for reading, learning and self-expression with young people.
What a rich, joyful, meaningful life it’s been in the classroom!
The instruction, encouragement, guidance and love that I’ve poured into my students over 27 years – and the care I’ve extended to families who’ve entrusted me with their children – is coming back to me a thousand times over now that I’m facing these unfair attacks.
Former students and parents reach out with support. A retired principal saw me and said he was proud, keep going. Current and former colleagues, online and at the school board podium, have spoken movingly in my defense. My union brothers and sisters have lifted me up, and my family cheers me on.
If we measured our worth by the friends we have to wrap their arms around us, I’d be the richest woman in the world.
Brandywine is a mighty district of 1,200 students. There’s no town – our schools are the source of connection, community and pride. Right now I’m one of 35 Brandywine alumni who are staff members, and lately I’ve cried many tears of gratitude for my 40 years as a Bobcat.
Here’s why: Those relationships I set out to build as a young teacher decades ago have woven together into a safety net of love for me and faith in my good intentions that I find incredibly humbling and comforting to my soul. This community knows my teacher heart, and that is a blessing.
I refuse to give in to despair. I live in the hope and optimism that comes from knowing others have fought this fight before and won. We will win too, if we can find the determination, courage – and the love – to stand in our truth.
Debbie Carew is a middle school language arts and humanities teacher and president of the Brandywine District Education Association.