At a regularly scheduled school board meeting for Urbandale Community Schools, students, teachers and parents took the podium to defend books in the school’s library.
“Parents do have the right and responsibility to monitor what their children watches or reads, but not to make decisions for all students and parents,” said Miriam Woods, a former science teacher and current substitute teacher around the metro.
“Taking books off the shelves punishes our kids. They will be less likely to read, to think, to ask questions, to find their own true path. So I ask you, whose ideas and opinions are being valued. Where does censorship end? Don’t let the minority dictate for the majority.”
Since October, there has been an organized push in Iowa to have books removed from school libraries. Those books frequently contain LGBTQ themes and experiences, and scenes that discuss or portray racial identity.
Among the people who defended the books were two sophomores at Urbandale High School.
“It’s embarrassing to me to even consider entertaining the conversation of banning these books today. Not only would you be taking away students’ voices and the resources they have access to, but you’d be taking away their identities and their experiences,” said Hailie Bonz, a sophomore at Urbandale High School.
She pointed out that many of the subjects in these books are challenges students experience in their own lives, and the books are not only reflections of those experiences but important resources for understanding themselves and their peers.
“Just because you don’t want to talk about some of these important issues or have your child read about some of these issues, doesn’t mean the issues don’t exist,” she said.
Multiple supporters also pointed out that children look for connections, and for reflections of their lives and experiences in the world. Books, they said, can provide validation and make children long-term readers when they see themselves represented.
One man called out the underlying reason for movements like this.
“Do not be mistaken, their argument isn’t with the stories; it’s with the story-tellers,” said Dan Gutmann. “You won’t see books on their list using similar language that tells the story of straight or white students or students from supportive households.”
“These children, our children, know that life isn’t always pretty, perfect, nice or described by pleasant language,” he said. “In honest literature, children can find a path forward through the discrimination and challenges they face in their lives. A book, even those with strong language that address difficult concepts can be a lifeline.”
A few parents were also there to complain about the books, describing them as pornographic and inappropriate for children. They also claimed exposure to the books would hurt students.
“It’s not okay, it’s not okay at all. It’s pornographic, the content … it’s grooming, it’s manipulating kids based on outside agendas,” said Dennis Murphy, parent of a student at Urbandale High School. “If this content were in a science, math or social studies book it would be thrown out. Because this is under the guise of diversity and inclusion, it is protected.”
Sen. Jake Chapman, who last week said educators who allow children to access these books should be charged with felonies, was also at the meeting. He spoke in favor of removing the books from the library, but he didn’t reference his earlier vow to strengthen Iowa’s obscenity laws.
The books in question are: “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, “Lawn Boy” by Jonathon Evison, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, “Hey Kiddo” by Jarrett Krosoczka, and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie.
Many of those books have come up before at school board meetings in the metro. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” has been challenged since it was published in 2007 and “Hey Kiddo” has also received challenges because of the subject matter.
“Lawn Boy,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and “Gender Queer” have also been described before.
“Hey Kiddo” is a graphic-novel memoir by Jarrett Krosoczka, who has written dozens of other children’s books. In this book, he explores growing up with his grandparents because his mother was a drug addict and he never knew his father. As such, the book discusses drug use and growing up in that environment.
“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is a novel by Sherman Alexei, a Native author, about a 14-year-old Native boy who lives on a reservation in Washington. It deals with the clash between living and growing up in poverty, but attending a wealthy, mostly white high school because of the better opportunities. The character, Junior, struggles with his identity, fitting in in two different places and handling the obstacles of being a minority and of life on a reservation.
The author has said the book is semi-autobiographical.
The main complaints are about mentions of sex, drugs and depictions of race and living as a racial minority.