Dangerous ignorance also harmful to kids
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“They don’t seem to know that banning books never works. It ignites the interest in reading what is forbidden.”
— American cartoonist Art Spiegelman
“Books that represent people and situations that are drastically different from anything they’ve ever known can trigger empathy [because] there are universal human experiences, like joy, grief, disappointment, shame.”
— Tara Keeley, a New York City-based elementary school teacher
A new and local front has opened up in an ongoing cultural war being waged in classrooms and school districts across North America — one that takes aim at public and school libraries that offer anti-racist or LGBTQ+ literature on their shelves.
On Monday evening, the Brandon School Division became the latest target of proponents of this book-purging movement, when dozens of people showed up for a presentation by self-described grandmother Lorraine Hackenschmidt.
In her presentation, Hackenschmidt demanded that a committee be struck to review books discussing gender identity and sexual health issues, with the intent of removing them from shelves and preventing student access. As we have reported in today’s paper, she attempted to link the discussion of books with transgender themes to the sexual grooming of youth and pedophilia — an argument that to my mind purposefully misrepresented the truth.
Her presentation was then applauded by those in the audience, as well as trustee Breeanna Sieklicki, who implored those in attendance to support Hackenschmidt.
This push for the ban of certain books in Brandon schools follows a similar move against the South Central Regional Library. That organization, which has library branches in Altona, Manitou, Miami, Morden and Winkler — essentially Manitoba’s Bible belt — received a book challenge last July that sought to remove three books from shelves, citing “illegal and pornographic” imagery within them.
The books in question included “What Makes a Baby” and “Sex is a Funny Word,” along with “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, Gender and Sexual Health.” These books are aimed at children and young adults, providing a means to guide them safely through questions of sexuality, gender and how to give consent.
Here in Brandon, Hackenschmidt took aim at a book called “Being Jazz,” written by a transgender girl who discusses the mental health struggles that accompanied her transition.
She also included books that have been around for a while, such as Toni Morrison’s novel “The Bluest Eye,” which tells the story of a young African-American girl who is consistently regarded as “ugly” due to her dark skin and character traits. Morrison’s novel has been the target of numerous ban attempts schools and libraries in the United States as it touches on themes of racism, incest and child molestation.
Under the guise of “protecting our children,” efforts such as these to target and ban books do more to further harm minorities in our society than save little Johnny and Nancy from contemplating a gay lifestyle. There is a difference between literature that provides understanding and enlightenment and the pornographic materials available to children on far too many web and social-media sites.
While I agree it’s better to have open dialogue with children to help guide them through such difficult discussions, not all parents are able or willing to address these subjects. Having access to information for students should be paramount.
But the effect of such crude disregard for a minority of our population is alarming, particularly when it’s targeting our libraries and schools. As Brandon Pride chair Alyssa Wowchuk said yesterday, withholding information on these kinds of topics and preventing queer kids from seeing themselves in the stories they read can lead to depression or suicide.
Brandonites and Canadians generally have made great strides as an inclusive society, as we have embraced gay marriage, supported Pride marches in our streets and welcomed new and different cultures and races to our workplaces, neighbourhoods and places of worship.
I must also admit that my own naive views have been challenged over the last 20 years, as I have contemplated, reported and commented upon these changes — and I’d like to think that I’m better for the effort to understand, rather than merely judge.
It is therefore alarming to me that an elected official on the Brandon School Division board could advocate for and encourage the creation of a committee that would seek to limit our freedom of choice and student access to information.
As a parent, I do not want my children’s educational experience and personal empathy to be curtailed by a handful of closed-minded zealots. And I suggest the Brandon School Division think long and hard before ever buckling to this kind of dangerous ignorance.
» Matt Goerzen, editor