Removing books from school libraries sets a dangerous precedent.
The Peel District School Board (PDSB) implemented a new procedure intended to ensure the books displayed in its schools’ libraries are inclusive. The procedure has led multiple schools to remove thousands of books from their libraries, solely because they were published in 2008 or earlier.
It’s untrue all books published in or before 2008 are non-inclusive. Removing books from a particular time period is a lazy alternative to creating criteria against which to evaluate the schools’ books for inclusivity.
Even if the PDSB had gone through the trouble of creating criteria and training librarians and educators to sort through and discard inappropriate material, removing books would still be irresponsible.
Even with the most extensive criteria and training, the decisions of those evaluating the books would be contaminated by their personal and political biases. Subjectivity has no role in moulding education.
Libraries are useful to students because of the caches of information they contain. The large number of books in a library parallels the diversity of opinions in the world beyond it. Filtering those stories disallows secondary students from engaging with a healthy variety of materials and limits their preparedness for life after high school.
Engaging with perspectives that challenge students’ understanding of the world is crucial to development of critical thought, which refers to the ability to recognize the biases in a source’s presentation of content, evaluate its credibility, and consider its implications.
Teaching inclusivity can only happen in the curriculum. Rather than trying to limit students’ awareness of non-inclusive materials, and providing no practice in critical engagement, PDSB classrooms should explain the importance of inclusivity.
Books can’t be problematic for students if the conversation around them is thoughtful and informative.
Non-inclusive books can be helpful in promoting inclusivity—it’s difficult to explain why discrimination is negative without any books depicting it. Many books published before 2008 advocate inclusivity, even if they don’t perfectly depict it. Erasing inaugural advocacy in the name of promoting inclusivity is inherently paradoxical.
This isn’t the first time the PDSB has placed limits on what literature is acceptable.
In 2018, English teachers claimed the PDSB was trying to ban To Kill a Mockingbird from its schools. While it’s true the novel contains racist content, when taught properly, it offers students the opportunity to understand and critically evaluate the reality of racism, analyze how the positionality of its author influences it, and to learn about the civil rights movement.
Discarding books is a performative, inattentive jab at inclusivity. Knowing they were planning on removing books, the PDSB should’ve established a complimentary procedure for re-stocking their shelves.
Re-organizing the library into inclusive and non-inclusive sections would have benefitted students both looking to see themselves represented in literature and to learn from history.
Erasing all potentially problematic material from libraries without education benefits no one.
—Journal Editorial Board
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