September 24, 2014
Texas school district thinks “Banned Books Week” means they’re supposed to ban books this week
by Liam O'Brien
Oh, Highland Park, Texas Independent School District Superintendant Dawson Orr. You scamp!
I’d love to give you the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe, when you went ahead with this new round of schoolbook bans as initially reported by CBS Local, it was because you simply misread all the signs.
Like, maybe you’d heard it was Banned Books Week but you got it ass-backwards. Rather than laughing until your gums bled at the thought of banning books right now, because clearly doing so would provoke national publicity and ridicule, you breathed a huge sigh of relief, thinking “oh thank God I had no idea I get a whole week to ban books! What perfect timing!” Maybe you leaned against the wall and slid to the floor, bent-kneed, desperately loosening your tie as sweat cascaded down your noble brow. Maybe your office was empty, and your heart beat lonelily in your chest like a single dove’s wings. “I never thought The Art of Racing In The Rain could provoke controversy,” you thought. “It’s narrated by an adorable dog, for Pete’s sake!”
Maybe you’re the kind of person who wouldn’t possibly entertain a PR nightmare like banning widely popular books during Banned Books Week. During the Carnivale for anti-censorship. During the one week a year when this headline doesn’t just write itself, but also typesets itself, drafts the final proofs for itself, sends itself to press, binds itself, and drives itself to the newsstand so it can sell itself.
Maybe the only reason you thought this was a choice at all was because, to be totally fair, it’s not explicitly “Banned Books Aren’t Cool Week.” All you needed to do was read even ONE internet to understand how bad of a choice this was. That banning Sherman Alexie, for example, during Banned Books Week is like forcing people to toast the King on Independence Day. So maybe it was just a tiny, honest mistake. After all, you’re no moron, right?
And of course, it’s not like you made the decision unilaterally; you’re responding to the parents who objected to the books being taught.
“This is not about banning books. No one is advocating that,” [Highland Park parent Tavia] Hunt said. “We want the kids to have access to the books in the library. The problem is having obscene literature mandatory in the classroom and for discussion.”
And you did make a statement to the effect that the ban isn’t final, and that “committees of parents, teachers and students” will review the books, which “may take several months”.
So maybe you’re really digging into these books, Dawson, so you can really understand the meaning and significance of these books in an academic context. Maybe you just don’t want to make any rash final decisions. Maybe this isn’t about banning books, it’s about due diligence when serving the needs of the community. And maybe, in a few months, you’ll return to the topic as a brighter, wiser Dawson who can remind the parents that racy (pun not intended) content is what makes most books assigned in high school memorable, and that if parents really cared about what their kids read in class they should read these books cover to cover before protesting, not after.
But if you made the decision to ban these seven books THIS WEEK, including a few of the most banned titles and authors in America, and you thought that was acceptable timing, then… well, we’re frankly amazed. Lucky for you that John Green’s fans don’t have a social media presence to fuel the certain backlash, right?
Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.