Monday, October 4, 2021

The Real Harm


Some things I have learned over the past few days:

1. There are people who believe that books in school libraries reach out with claws of steel to ensnare unsuspecting passers-by. Not all books, though. Just the ones they don’t like. The other books just sit there on the shelf, minding their own business, until someone comes along to check them out.

2. Nothing could render a book more fascinating to teenagers who might never have even known it existed than the loud protestations of parents that the book must be hidden away from adolescent eyes. (Actually, I already knew this. This isn’t the first time this has happened. I wish it would be the last.)

3. I have been dumbfounded by the sad lack of understanding and empathy for LGBTQ kids in our schools. 

4. It’s possible that the big divide comes down to this: some people believe that books are dangerous. Others see the people who want to ban books as dangerous.

5. The “I’m not a racist, but…” conversations feel awfully similar to the “I don’t believe in banning books, but…” arguments. 

In conclusion, we are being asked to imagine the great harm that will come to hypothetical 14 year old if they see the (carefully selected) illustrations thrust in front of us. What would that be? “High school student sees pictures on page thirty seven and…”

  • Drops out of school?
  • Engages in self harm?
  • Attempts suicide?
  • Turns to substance abuse?
  • Runs away from home?
  • Becomes homeless?
  • Is stigmatized by peers?
  • Is disowned by parents?
Wait, that’s not what happens to adolescents who encounter challenging books in the school library. That’s what happens to LGBTQ kids who often have no access to affirming materials, or no accepting community, no trustworthy adults to support them through their teenage years. That’s why we see books like this, because these kids are in danger in a society that very often rejects them.

What kind of community are we if we care about a hypothetical 14 year old more than issues that are truly life and death for kids in our schools?

If our hypothetical 14 year old has supportive parents, they will be able to talk with them about that challenging book. They will learn that they can always bring issues like this to their parents, and they will learn something from their conversation. That’s it.

In the meantime, here’s my pitch from 2014 for comprehensive, k-12 sex education:

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