ClassCast Podcast Ep.043 features host Ryan Tibbens discussing wide-reaching, intrusive, and imperfect policy changes in his school division that are resulting in suppression of teachers' First Amendment rights, paranoia among employees, book banning, censorship, and more. Banned Books Week 2020 runs from September 27 through October 3 and, ironically, included Tibbens' first personal run-in with book banning during his 15 year teaching career. The new policy not only infringes upon employees' first amendment rights in hopes of protecting the division's public image and efficiency, but it declares a universal ban on racial slurs "regardless of intent" as well. That, of course, sounds great, but it results in a wide variety of high quality texts becoming unsafe -- or possibly banned -- for classroom use, rendering teachers' efforts to support national and local antiracist goals harder to achieve because teachers have fewer options for texts to inform and guide those discussions. In this episode, Tibbens addresses problematic aspects of the new policy, connects it to classroom realities, and defends The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Just Mercy, and more.
If you are serious about fighting racism and censorship while promoting critical thinking and intellectual freedom, this episode is not to be missed.
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~~ Disclaimer: This recording includes ideas and opinions of the speaker, Ryan Tibbens, and do not reflect the views of his employer nor any other organization or agency. ~~
~~ UPDATE: Since this episode was released, several leaders within the school system have reached out for clarification. Contrary to initial comments, they say that no specific books are being banned. Additionally, in part because of the awareness and concerns raised by this podcast, the proposed Professional Conduct Policy has been sent back to committee for revision. Final language is still pending. Individual leaders have clarified their statements and suggested that teachers will have their support to teach whatever quality books they choose. That being said, their comments also suggest a shift from what the American Library Association calls "direct censorship" (a formal ban by school leaders) to "indirect censorship" (an informal ban imposed by teachers/librarians on themselves in order to avoid conflicts or problems at work or in the community). At this point, the censorship seems to be individual teachers' problems, not leadership's, because there is no formal ban or limitation on the texts. School leadership has since issued guidelines on how to handle books with racially offensive language, which includes "DO NOT use audio books or read passages with sensitive language or racial slurs aloud, nor should students read these passages aloud. Teachers may not read the passage and omit the offensive word or supply a substitute word. Language spoken aloud that is oppressive causes violence and trauma to students and provides tacit permission for students to use these terms outside of the classroom." This guideline makes the texts addressed in this episode (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X) unusable for whole class and small group applications because the texts can't be read or discussed aloud. Again, based on recent comments from leadership, they are not prohibiting any text; however, the limitations on how to use the books likely leads to indirect censorship. School leadership also requested the clarification that books including gender reassignment surgery are not included in elementary classroom libraries, though the other texts/topics I mention are present. Overall, I sympathize with everyone involved in the situation and understand that everyone is doing what they think is best to improve education and fight racism. That being said, the broader arguments and positions stated in this episode still stand. We cannot fight racism by making anti-racist books unusable in the classroom.
Banned Books Week Links:
- ALA's "Banned Books Week"
- NCTE's "Guidelines for Dealing with Censorship of Instructional Materials"
- NCTE's "The Students' Right to Read"
- NCTE's "Statement on Academic Freedom"
- NCTE's "Position Statement Regarding Rating or 'Red-Flagging' Books"
- ACLU's "Banned Books"
See Ryan Tibbens' written defense of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn here.
Table of Contents
- Introduction & Conduct Policy -- 0:00-8:09
- Racial Slurs -- 8:10-12:03
- Huckleberry Finn -- 12:03-23:19
- Banning Words, Banning Books -- 23:20-44:29
- Banned Books Week -- 44:29-47:20
- What's This All About? -- 47:20- end
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