There is one area of a school’s budget that is often not spent to its fullest and that is the purchasing of library books. It varies from district to district, but some schools have as much as $15 per student to spend annually. Due to the simple fact there is not enough space on library shelves, and that deaccessing a perfectly fine book goes against the nature of librarians, a lot of book money goes unspent.
Enrollment at my school is over 1,000 students. Curating 1,000 books is a tall task. It’s nearly impossible for a librarian to know year after year which 1,000 titles are relevant. So, most books are bought under the recommendations of authorized distributors that are aware of the latest trends. By design, the distributors are Switzerland. They are neutral on social and political issues.
You might be familiar with accusations of pornography in Oklahoma school libraries. Last summer when Ryan Walters was the secretary of education, he attacked our librarians on the national news and social media by labeling three titles as pornography. If those books existed (which in many cases they did not), they were taken off the shelves with no debate.
Despite the removal of the books, accusations of pornography persisted. Why not? It gets Walters on Fox News, and he gets thousands of reactions on social media. This is the kind of talk that got an all-expense paid trip to Philadelphia where he shared the stage with presidential hopeful Nikki Haley at a Moms for Liberty convention.
I’m sure this kind of notoriety is intoxicating for a kid from McAlester.
I read two of the banned books that were in my school’s library, because they were included in the distributor’s list of hundreds of books. My librarian did not seek them out. But my guess is that former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart ,who penned the phrase, “I know it when I see it,” would not consider these books to be pornography.
Speaking of books, the all-time business best-seller is by Dale Carnegie called “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Something tells me that Walters never read it. If he had, rather than scream bloody murder on the social media network X, he might have called his colleagues (a word related to “collegial”) at the various districts and in a cordial and professional discussion explain why he believed that certain books should be removed from the shelves.
Likewise, the district officials should respectfully comply with the boss’ request.
Finally, you would expect the superintendent to close with, “Thank you. I’m glad that we can work as a team. Have a great day!”
But we know this didn’t happen.
Societies have a long history of book burnings. All of them were in the name of politics or religion. Technically, book burnings are a form of censorship. When we looked back at history, we found our knee-jerk reactions to be unnecessary.
I would ask those who are threatened by a handful of books to ask themselves, “Is America that fragile?” While personally I don’t want graphic books on sexuality to be in our school’s libraries, I think we should think about occasionally taking one for the team and providing books for struggling young people who feel alienated.
It’s hard to be a teenager. I can’t imagine watching adults with 21st-century pitchforks judging and condemning me because I was different.
One trait I find reassuring of today’s young generation is that they are less inclined to take the moral high ground and to judge others. They do not attack others who are different. I would go so far as to say that they love others as they love themselves.
K. John Lee is in the first year of his third career as a math teacher.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Societies have history of burning books in name of politics, religion