Michigan schools are facing significant challenges that require all of us to come together and work as a team for the betterment of our children — yet some political extremists are dead set on fanning the flames of their culture war and using our kids as their political pawns.
This small-but-vocal minority’s latest target in their ongoing efforts to sow discontent for electoral purposes is our children’s freedom to read.
Across the country, far-right political activists are targeting school libraries, pressuring officials to remove books from the shelves that might offend their particular sensibilities. They claim it’s an issue of “parental rights,” but parents already have the right to opt their children out of reading an assigned book or from checking out certain titles and genres.
Parents and caregivers have a right to make choices for their own children — the problem comes when one person decides they should have the power to make reading and educational choices for everyone else’s kids.
Because of well-organized and vitriolic pressure campaigns from political extremists, school libraries across the country have been forced to remove books about Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement, the Holocaust and other topics that might not completely align with certain political perspectives. Those seeking to ban books often bypass standard book-challenging procedures and instead flood school board meetings, angrily demanding school officials bend to their will — or else.
The vast majority of targeted books are written by or about people in marginalized communities, such as racial, religious or ethnic minorities, as well as members of the LGBTQ community, according to the American Library Association.
Books from diverse perspectives can help marginalized students see other people like them and let these children know they’re not alone. Such books can also provide students with a glimpse of other people’s perspectives and experiences, helping kids develop a better understanding of the world around them.
PEN America, a free-speech advocacy organization formed by authors, reported they typically encounter “a handful of such [book-banning] cases each year.” Recently though, there’s been “a profound increase in both the number of books banned and the intense focus on books that relate to communities of color and LGBTQ+ subjects,” PEN reported.
The sudden uptick is clearly due to partisan politics, as far-right politicians are throwing everything they can at the wall until they find something that sticks. While banning books, censoring educators and silencing marginalized voices are extreme views, politicians are desperate to spawn wedge issues that scare voters. By using fear and anger, political extremists are trying to play divide-and-conquer with the electorate so they can achieve their own political ambitions.
Given that, we can expect these attacks on educators and marginalized people to only intensify during these last few weeks of the election, as right-wing candidates get increasingly desperate and their tactics become more outlandish.
It’s up to everyday Michiganders to reject political extremists’ scare tactics and instead work together — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike — to solve the real issues facing public schools. We must tackle the shortage of qualified teachers and support staff, increase school-based mental health resources for our kids, and provide students with the extra support they need to get back on track after the pandemic.
We also need to stand up for our children’s freedom to read a diverse array of books — as well as for educators’ freedom to use their professional expertise to teach students all of the facts of history in a comprehensive and honest manner.
Students, parents and educators deserve better than contrived culture wars, political stunts and un-American censorship. Our schools need more solutions — not more strife.
Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Ray Curry, Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights Executive Secretary-Treasurer Tom Lutz and selected Service Employees International Union members.
(Posted as submitted to Detroit News – https://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/columnists/2022/10/06/herbart-protect-students-freedom-to-read-labor-voices/69536409007/)