Teachers in Oklahoma have expressed concern that they may be required to catalog their libraries for inspection by a vocal minority of community members who wish to control the availability of reading materials, forced to self-censor their instructional materials, or instructed to decline discussing relevant topics and literature with students for fear that their districts may have their accreditation downgraded. Seeing this, a parent recently spoke out a school board meeting in support of children's right to read and learn.
This is all the result of the Oklahoma State Board of Education downgrading two school districts’ accreditation recently over HB1775 complaints. HB 1775, which is now being challenged in federal court, prohibits certain instruction related to race and gender, and is part of a book censorship trend that is spreading across the country.
Fearing controversy, some teachers and administrators are self-censoring, a process that is predominantly impacting materials featuring minoritized groups. Teachers are thinking twice about their instruction, considering limiting the materials they choose to share with their students, and the books they include in their classroom libraries.
It seems that all we hear in the news are parents complaining that their kids are being indoctrinated or “groomed” by the diversity of literature available to them in their schools and libraries, so when I saw this speech by Robin Fuxa, an Oklahoma parent and educator who spoke at the Stillwater school board meeting recently, I asked if I could reprint it and she agreed. Robin is the parent of one elementary and one high school student in Oklahoma public schools and graduated from a rural Oklahoma public school herself.
Reprinted with permission by Robin Fuxa.
Here is my full statement during public comments at the Stillwater Public Schools Board of Education meeting on August 9. I decided to speak, not because I think that the board is going to throw out their selection policy, but because it’s important that our kids and the world know that those who want to restrict their access are not the majority in our community. This weaponization of a badly written law (another party directly referenced HB 1775 and the reduced accreditations of other districts) against our schools cannot continue. We’ll fight for our children’s right to read and learn.
I’ve been an elementary teacher, a secondary school library media specialist, and I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life studying and teaching about literacy. Today, however, I’m here to address you as a parent. First, no one is advocating that you buy class sets of Fifty Shades of Gray.
But books recommended for the age range that are well-reviewed by professionals and/or award winning must remain available to our kids. I’ll quickly add that the addition of new voices doesn’t mean the expulsion of others – Shakespeare and Dickens can stay while we add inspiring contemporary voices like Toni Morrison, Angie Thomas, and Angeline Boulley.
If we never give our children the chance to consider a broad array of perspectives, we’re doing them a disservice and setting them up to struggle when they do go on to interact with the wider world. And since books that face challenges are often books that offer diverse perspectives, choosing not to add those voices to our classrooms can perpetuate existing inequities.
The Library Bill of Rights, rooted in the First Amendment, has been repeatedly upheld in numerous court cases. It guarantees that parent can choose for their own child what they can and cannot read; however, it holds that other parents do not have that right to restrict access for my children, as that right lies with me and my family. Further, excerpts out of context do not convey the value of a text. Rather, they must be viewed as a whole.
Children are sharp, and they read using their own moral compass. Those values instilled, most often by family, are used to guide them through their reading. Books do not hold a power to corrupt, as some may fear.
Books do have a power of a different kind. They have the power to save lives by letting kids feel seen – a queer student who feels alone in the world might find solace in a character’s story. A Chris Crutcher piece that addresses abuse may help a child see that a better future is indeed possible.
Books have the power to build empathy, help us understand others’ points of view and experiences, and, yes, occasionally, to change our minds about something when we find (as we all do growing up) that our moral compass has been a bit off-kilter.
When making decisions about calls to censor books, please bear in mind there are many more of us who have your back in supporting our children’s right to read...please consider our voices. I, too, am a parent; I ask for your continued courage and commitment to uphold the First Amendment and defend our children’s inherent right to read.
Would be censors make claims about their rights as parents, but they already have the authority to prohibit certain texts for their children. In challenging a book and seeking its removal, they’re actually seeking to usurp other parents' right to determine our own children's access.
In this most recent wave of censorship, it is also an effort to attempt to discredit and undermine public schools through "grassroots" movements that happen to be virtually identical across the country thanks to a network of think tanks and political operatives including political profiteer Chris Rufo.
But Oklahomans love our public schools, we trust our professional educators to teach and choose materials well. The right to select or decline reading materials lies with each of us as parents, and in our democratic republic, it must remain that way. These rights are guaranteed in our Constitution, and there’s a reason this Amendment is First.
Thank you for your time. I appreciate you all.
Dr, Robin Fuxa is an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University and a Teacher Consultant in the OSU Writing Project.
If you're looking for information about how to manage your curriculum or classroom libraries, I have written and am maintaining an article about managing censorship in your classroom.