Did you know that if you are a resident of the State of Florida, regardless of the fact that you do not have any children in the education system, you now have the right, under the new Florida Education Statue, signed by Governor Rick Scott, to file a formal complaint about the materials or curriculum being taught? Yes, you read that right. As an educator, it is beyond frustrating to know that anyone can submit a written complaint to the Board of Education, in any public school district about what is being taught by someone who does not have a truly vested interest. The nature of the complaint must be determined to be valid but, the cost factor to school districts who can not even provide decent wages to the teachers and staff will be one more burden on the taxpayer and take time away from what is truly important: the children!
In order to pursue the legitimacy of the claim, school districts must now hire an independent “unbiased hearing officer” to investigate the allegation and determine if the curriculum or materials is detrimental to the education of the children. This is not only costly but time consuming. Other concerns that have been expressed, especially by those who teach science, are that issues such as global warming or evolution will be challenged and teachers will not have the right to use these materials, even though they are researched-based and backed by the scientific community, in order for the agendas of right-wing conservatives to be promoted; those who adhere to a creationist theory of man and discount the evidence that our world is rapidly changing and succumbing to global climate changes. Materials that they feel are “pornographic” can also be challenged.
As an educator with years of experience, I find it disheartening to say the least that our society has sought to place limits upon our inherent rights and freedoms protected by the United States Constitution. Why, as educators, should we not be allowed to provide our students with information that engages them in thought-provoking conversation and dialogue; to challenge and question; to think independently to make their own choices? Why should groups like, The Florida Citizen’s Alliance or those who want a revisionist version of American History with no real vested interest be given the opportunity to waste the already limited and valuable resources of school districts? While I agree that spreading hatred and violence or using materials that contradict a code of ethics should not be allowed, the idea that limiting or restricting materials based upon personal opinion may become a reality, is frightening and threatens what real education should be.
And so it has begun…
According to the July 18, 2017 article in the Florida Times Union at http://jacksonville.com/news/schools/2015-07-18/story/petition-ban-new-books-prompts-new-debate-censorship-duval-county by Rhema Thompson, at least 11 books have been banned from the Duval County School District Libraries including two new books by Jeanette Winter: “Nasreen’s Secret School” and “The Librarian of Basra” both with settings in the Middle Eastern countries of Afghanistan and Iraq. The claims that the books are violent, the portrayal of American soldiers is harsh, and that Islam is mentioned seems to me to be an hysterical reaction to the realities of the world. While I have not read either book, the synopsis of the plots hardly seem inappropriate. In particular, “The Librarian of Basra” is biographical in nature and is based upon a woman with strong convictions and courage in the face of war to preserve the written word. What is wrong with American students being awakened to the horrors of war; to know, in contrast, that they have the right to live in a free society; a free education; to have books to read? We should not limit and ban their experiences and continually shelter them. Students need to be aware of the realities of life so that they have the tools and background to make positive changes in the world. To stop the fighting and the hatred. To be open and accepting of others’ beliefs and customs. If we continue to prohibit what children can read and not give them a broad-based curriculum with a global perspective we are doomed to a world in which hatred thrives. We can not nor should put our children in protective bubble-wrap and insulate them from the world.
“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”