A recent article in Canada's Cambridge Today talked about the efforts by some Canadian school boards to "identify and remove any texts deemed harmful to staff and students." While the brief reported piece focuses specifically on the Waterloo Region District School Board's ongoing efforts to look back at their library, the article does mention the completed actions of several other Canadian school districts:
Earlier this year, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board removed William Golding's classic Lord of the Flies from its curriculum after its advisory committee on equity agreed with a student who said the book's themes were outdated and too focused on white, male power structures.
Other books recently removed from Canadian school libraries and/or curriculums in response to complaints about racist, homophobic, or misogynistic language and themes, include Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.
In the case of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, the specific student complaint came from a self-identified 17-year-old Black, Jewish, feminist social justice activist, who said:
Although I agree that students need to learn about important poets and authors such as Shakespeare, this does not mean that the entire English curriculum should be focused on such outdated and irrelevant material in this day and age. Students need to understand how to pull information from Shakespeare, Orwell, Dahl, Golding, and other authors; however, we shouldn't be memorizing passages of information that we truly can not relate to our modern-day lives. Additionally, without being able to make real-life comparisons, this information does not stick with us… so are we really learning anything? OCDSB should make each English course focus on authors, playwrights and poets of marginalized groups, in addition to the classics. Not only will it allow for the English program to be more inclusive, but it will also allow Black, Asian, Middle Eastern and Indigenous students to feel represented.
This, to me, sounds like a reasonable request. There's nothing else in there about Lord of the Flies besides Golding's name (although the student does say "I do not need to listen to my white teachers use the N-word while reading To Kill a Mockingbird, saying that it is 'okay' because they are the teacher" — which, again, fair!).
During a school board committee meeting, however, this student's letter was interpreted as such:
Referencing The Lord of the Flies, (the student who wrote the article) noted that she does not need to learn more about White, male supremacy, which tells the story of a group of boys in a hierarchical order who fight for power and degrade one another. (The article) led to the removal of 'The Lord of the Flies' from the OCDSB English curriculum.
It's not entirely clear in the school board's report if this conclusion was drawn based on the text written by the student in the student paper, or if there was a specific Lord of the Flies complaint presented orally during another session. Either way: this seems like a strange leap from, "I understand why these books are valuable, but can't we have some other books as well?" Instead, it sounds to me like a bunch of older, powerful people who would rather demonstrate their institutional authority than grapple with nuance, and claim they're doing it "for the kids." In my humble opinion, that is the much bigger problem than some young people saying "Can we just do a little better?" and then getting frustrated when they're repeatedly ignored.
Meanwhile, in Texas:
A Texas Republican lawmaker has drawn up a list of 850 books on subjects ranging from racism to sexuality that could "make students feel discomfort," and is demanding that school districts across the state report whether any are in their classrooms or libraries.
Krause, who chairs the state's House Committee on General Investigating, also directed the districts to identify "any other books" that could cause students "guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously."
Books deemed 'harmful to staff and students' are being removed from region's public school libraries [Doug Coxson / Cambridge Today]
Lord of the Flies removed from Ottawa school board curriculum [Cosmin Dzsurdzsa / True North Canada]
Four Years of Shakespeare [Kyla Gibson / The Lisgarwrite]
Image: Katy Warner / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)