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A process for banning books

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The Nampa School Board has decided to spend time – its staff’s time – developing a process for banning books.

But why bother? They already know how to do that. They’ve done it already.

On May 9 the board decided to throw out 22 books (that is, 22 separate titles, which probably means several times that number of actual copies) from the district’s libraries. And classrooms, probably. They were in other words banned by the district.

True, not much rationale was attached to the choices. The main point seemed to be that someone at the district, whether a parent or board members or staffer, didn’t like them.

The quality or usefulness of the books, as something educational or otherwise of help to students who might have sought them out, apparently wasn’t at issue, or at least not much considered. One of those books was written by a laureate of the Nobel Prize for Literature. (Sounds dangerous for kids; it might encourage them to think, as it did to me when I read it.) The Kite Runner is an international best seller, massively acclaimed worldwide for its exposure of the effects of war (a subject of some current utility). The Handmaid’s Tale has won scads of awards, become a bestseller worldwide and a cultural touchstone and dystopian classic belonging on a shelf with 1984 and Animal Farm. (Are those slated for bans next? It wouldn’t be the first time.) You can understand, of course, why some people in Nampa might consider these books politically incorrect.

Not all of the banned volumes are major sellers or award winners, but all are thought-provoking.

That may be the through line. We don’t actually want kids to learn to think in school, do we?

Of course, a school board can’t actually say this (well, better pause on that: we’re in the 20s now) so presumably it needs some sort of, you know, rationale for what it’s doing.

That apparently is not easy, hence the search for a process.

At its May 9 meeting, the board simply did what its members – a majority of them – wanted to do; the why largely was left hanging. That didn’t stop the board then and in fact seemed to be an incentive, because the new board president, Jeff Kirkman, acknowledged that the board’s procedure for dumping books “was all over the place.” (Actually, the district’s librarians already had a book review committee to examine the contents of their collections.)

At its June 6 meeting, the board asked its interim superintendent (the last one had effectively resigned in protest when the new board took over) to develop over the next two to three months a process for getting rid of books the board, or maybe certained listened-to parents, disapprove.

To be clear here: Parents – all of them, not just the loudest voices – should be heard when school boards make decisions of any kind. Schools and school districts with strong parental involvement almost already are stronger and more helpful to their students.

But there’s a difference between parental involvement and allowing one segment of parents to shut the door on books and ideas that other parents find useful, and that’s what seems to be happening here.

Besides that, book bans generally, in this country at least, are an exercise in futility.

Try keeping the Nampa kids from downloading books off Amazon or other online sellers. Locally, Boise book seller Rediscovered Books has underlined the point with its “Nampa Banned Books Giveaway,” in which it has been giving away free copies – by the hundreds – of the banned books; it held one large event at a coffee shop in Nampa. The books are getting a lot of free attention and readers they might not otherwise have had.

The store added on its website: “Books matter. Access to books matters. Books are tools for understanding complex issues. They develop empathy, they expand our perspectives. Limiting young people’s access to books does not protect them from dealing with life’s complexities and challenges. People, and especially young people, deserve to see themselves reflected in a library’s books. Their stories matter, they matter.”

No process developed by the Nampa School Board will change any of that. A process is just an indicator of this: It’s only the beginning.

Note: This column was edited to remove the name of one book which may not have been on the banned list.

 

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