Last Spring, a school district in Davis County, Utah removed In Our Mothers' House by Patricia Polacco from the shelves of its libraries after 25 parents signed a petition for its removal. The book? This book:
This book is about two moms raising a family and the hatred they experience from their neighbors because of that. It's about love and laughter. It's written for grades 1 through 4. The book was added to the libraries' collections when school administrators found out that a student was being raised by lesbians, all in an effort to foster inclusion. In a stunning and embarrassing display of irony whizzing right above their heads, the Davis County school district acquiesced to the handful of bigoted parents by making the book available only to students who had signed permission slips from their parents or guardians. They moved the book behind the librarians' desks. Students did not know about the book. They did not know they could access it. The rationale? Davis County District spokesperson Chris Williams said that state law instructs that schools "can’t have anything in the curriculum that advocates homosexuality." Furthermore, they restricted the book so that only 3rd grade and above would be able to check it out at all.
Parent Tina Weber objected to the restriction so much that yesterday the ACLU filed a lawsuit on her behalf. The Davis County School district is getting sued over restricting the children's rights to free speech and placing "a discriminatory burden on the students' ability to access fully protected speech."
When I first read this headline, I thought someone was going to be suing the school district over including the book, because that's usually how fucked up people are. But then the letters ACLU jumped off the page and I read further. And I thought, well, this is actually what our justice system is supposed to be used for. This isn't a frivolous lawsuit. Weber elaborated in a statement issued through Utah's ACLU office, "I was shocked when I heard that a handful of parents had made a decision about whether everyone else's kids could have access to this book." The legal system is supposed to protect our rights and in this case it is protecting access to free speech, our access to books.
Yet so many parts of this situation and how it came to pass at all signify all different areas of American society and culture that are totally and completely fucked.
In an article by Peg McEntee from the Salt Lake City Tribune, this quote struck me as particularly relevant:
The bookseller nailed it.
"They’ll let their 10-year-olds read The Hunger Games," she said Saturday. "But not this."
This being In Our Mothers’ House, a beautifully written and illustrated story about a big brown house on Woolsey Street where Meema and Marmee raise their three children.
Meema and Marmee are women; their children were adopted. Meema’s Italian grandparents are frequent visitors and the family lives in an integrated neighborhood where communal treehouses are built and street fairs organized.
Our society does not care one wit about violence. According to the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, other countries rate their movies more harshly based on violent material, whereas the U.S. will hike up a rating based on sex, sexuality and, even more specifically, homosexuality. The same attitude, it seems, would apply to books. It certainly has in my experience. Depictions of love warrant a crack down, but parents will hand over the ultra-violent Hunger Games to their children as if they were dolling out Halloween candy.
Then of course, there is the obvious. Not only is it limiting of free speech, but the lawsuit states "Even worse, restricting access to 'In Our Mothers' House' and segregating it from the rest of the library collection places an unconstitutional stigma on the book and the students who wish to read it." It stigmatizes gay families in that one needs special permission to read about them. In what universe is two moms inappropriate? It also defacto restricts access to the book because, let's face it, would you have read a book so stigmatized for being non-normative if everyone had to watch you go up to the librarian carrying a permission slip from your mommy in order to get it? No, of course you wouldn't, because kids don't want to be different. They want to be included. Like In Our Mothers' House teaches us.
Yet another issue with this is the dumbing down of children's curiosity and education. That book is appropriate for grades 1-4. Yet the school is telling children that first and second graders won't be able to process this information. They also do not advertise to children that the book is available to read:
Still Williams acknowledges that school libraries have no signage or any indication for students that Our Mothers' House is not on shelves but behind the librarian's counter. When asked how students who knew nothing of the book would know it existed but wasn't on the shelves, Williams says:
"I bet if you are a student you don't know about 99 percent of the books on the shelves anyways."
PUKE PUKE PUKE PUKE PUKE. We should expect our children to be curious. We should encourage them to read books. We should not settle for this attitude about elementary education. Children are brilliant! I used to teach second grade French, and really, elementary schoolers are capable of a lot (like making sentences in French after only two weeks of practice, I shit you not.) Telling them that they can't or shouldn't be interested in expanding their minds, their points of view, is sickening. Children should have access to reading material because we are not a nation that decides what you read. The material is age appropriate. Deal with it.
Even after all of this, the school district feels good about the decision they made and is standing behind it, which baffles me. "We still feel comfortable with the process we followed," says Williams. "That process is laid out in school district policy and that policy existed for years before this issue came to a head." Never mind that it's the only book that's ever had this policy applied to it. Never mind that the policy is unconstitutional. Never mind that the book is not advocating for homosexuality, but rather advocating for diversity and families. Never mind any of that. The district is down with it. They've also said, despite the lack of signage and the stigma associated with it, that they believe having it behind the desk still qualifies as access. "The parent is still in the driver's seat," Williams says regarding the ability to obtain the book.
In short, Weber is right to sue the district. School is where kids should go to learn about other people's values and how to coexist with everyone, as they will have to do in their communities as they grow up and as they enter their world as citizens. Home is where children should go to learn about their families' values. Decisions about access to age appropriate reading material should not be left to 25 parents out of an entire school district. This book was purchased for a reason. I'm glad Weber is suing. I would too.