Brooklyn’s library moves to push books through Red States bans

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An Oklahoma high school teacher resigned after suffering backlash over the induction students to the program. Now colleagues, students and community members make yard signs and children wear t-shirts to school to promote the program with a barcode that connects to the BPL website on phones.

“The QR code has become – for lack of a better wording – a symbol of local resistance in my state,” former Norman High School English teacher Summer Boismier said in an interview. She says she resigned in protest and her teaching license is now in jeopardy after giving students the code.

Proponents say they protect children from sexualized material, political indoctrination and concepts designed to instill guilt in white students. Critics, meanwhile, say the policy is cooling discussion about institutional racism and depriving LGBTQ children of the resources to better understand themselves.

Similar bans were introduced in a push that has seen hundreds of titles shelved in nearly 3,000 schools in 26 states, according to nonprofit free speech group PEN America.

The group No Left Turn in Education, which supports some bans, says it opposes schools that enforce “leftist orthodoxy” and books with sexually explicit imagery.

“School is not a playground for politicians,” said Founder and President Elana Fishbein. “School is designed to educate children to give them the tools they need to eventually succeed in life. … It should be neutral territory.”

Restricting books isn’t new, but the bans — some statewide and others affecting only certain school districts — are increasingly part of a larger statewide conflict over classroom discussions race and gender identity that has seen conservative activists push money and candidates for school board positions. The right, in particular, has taken up education issues in the upcoming November election after Republican Glenn Youngkin’s pledge to give parents more say in what their children learn in school helped him win in Virginia last year.

But in Wisconsin, for example, Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, said in June that Republicans will ban books if he loses re-election in November, especially those related to LGBTQ issues.

Back in Oklahoma, Boismier’s departure prompted parents in the area to distribute flyers and QR code t-shirts for students to wear to school. Heather Hall, who owns a local bookstore, said Books Unbanned has been a lifeline for her middle school student River, who uses she/them pronouns.

“How extraordinary it is that I’m in Norman, Oklahoma … I have my kid who’s going through some things in middle school and has access to these very kind people across the country,” she said.

Before the school year started, Boismier covered potentially hurtful books in her classroom with butcher paper containing the QR code for Books Unbanned. This prompted a parent to complain that students could access “pornographic material,” including Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” which explains what it means to be non-binary and asexual.

Boismier said she was initially told she was being placed on administrative leave. But the school district dismissed that claim, saying she was never given a leave of absence, suspension or dismissal and that Boismier chose to resign.

Nick Migliorino, the superintendent at Norman Public Schools, recently said the parent alleged Boismier made “disparaging and divisive remarks” about state legislatures during class time and used her classroom “to make a political display to express her own opinion.” to express”.

Migliorino also said there was no violation of Oklahoma state law or State Department of Education rules and that it was not about “books on teachers’ shelves or use of the public library’s QR code.”

The city, Oklahoma’s third-largest with a population of around 120,000, is considered one of the more temperate burgs in the red state. Donald Trump nevertheless won the area in the 2020 presidential election by a margin of 14 points. The area also grapples with a dark history: Until 1967, it was a “sunset city,” which prohibited black people from owning homes or staying out after dark.

Liberal Brooklyn’s incursion is frustrating conservatives like Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters, who says some books are unsuitable for children and wants Boismier’s license revoked.

“Rather than being more concerned about the children and their development, and is that appropriate for children at this grade level, they have chosen to take an ideological direction here – not an academic exercise – but an ideological one by bringing this into our schools . ‘ Walters said in an interview.

The Brooklyn Library says disseminating information is part of its core mission. And as more and more states began banning books in schools and libraries, the library system was forced to resist them.

“We say that’s what libraries do, we provide access to these materials,” said BPL President and CEO Linda Johnson. “Literature is such a powerful thing and it allows you to get to know yourself better, your world, it allows you to see new things and we don’t think anyone should be excluded from it, regardless of where they live. “

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office of Freedom of Thought, lamented the efforts by various states to silence LGBTQ, Black, Indigenous and Colored people. She called Oklahoma a hub for legislative activity aimed at removing such books and “tightly controlling” young people’s education.

Fishbein of No Left Turn in Education says books like Jelani Memory’s A Kids Book About Racism and Anastasia Higginbotham’s Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness teach students to hate the United States.

Books Unbanned has gone “viral” since its launch in April, and the library has been inundated with more than 5,100 requests from teenagers across the country, Johnson said.

The program is making progress across the country.

Texas American Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo said it reverses the efforts of conservative groups like Moms for Liberty, which are spearheading efforts to ban books, though putting books in front of teens doesn’t necessarily slow them down.

“The library code doesn’t stop them from pushing these policies further to disrupt schools,” said Capo, whose national union has 66,000 members, including educators, retirees and school employees. “I would say the library code renders them ineffective when it comes to keeping books away from children, absolutely.”

Texas is at the epicenter of statewide textbook bans, with more text being banned this year than any other state, according to the Texas Tribune.

In October 2021, state GOP Rep. Matt Krause asked schools across the state if they have any of the roughly 850 books on a list he compiled that focus on race and sexuality. Some school districts in Texas began removing these books.

Lone Star State parents may also temporarily remove their students from classes or activities they deem inconsistent with their religious beliefs. They can also review lesson materials and see their students’ recordings.

The other public library systems in New York – the Queens Public Library and the New York Public Library – have made efforts similar to BPL. The NYPL, which serves the boroughs of Manhattan, Bronx and Staten Island, made banned materials freely available through its free e-reader app in April and May.

Tony Marx, president and CEO of the New York Public Library, said it’s not about a “big city pushing a liberal agenda,” but about libraries doing their job of making knowledge and information accessible.

“What Brooklyn is doing is fabulous,” Marx said. “What each of us can do to resist this effort to limit the public’s right to read is critical, and … we should do all we can.” The simple fact is that it is outrageous that this is happening.”

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