Public discussion of library books continues at Stillwater School Board meeting

Sep. 14—The community discussion about which books should and should not be available to children attending Stillwater Public Schools continued Tuesday when a group of residents calling themselves The Highlighter Resistance told the Board of Education they oppose removing titles being questioned by another group.

The merit and appropriateness of several titles was discussed by people on both sides of the issue during public comment at the Aug. 9 school board meeting.

As he turned to the public comment section of the meeting, Board Vice-President Marshall Baker, who was presiding over the meeting in President Tim Riley's absence, said he appreciates the public and the engagement the board is getting and the dialogue he's hearing. It makes him realize how diverse the community is and appreciate that all the people with different opinions and beliefs sincerely want their kids to be safe and to belong.

Remy Recchia told the board books can be a source of comfort for children, as they have been for him since age 8. They also taught him about other people and their experiences.

Recchia said he was surprised not just at the number of books being challenged but at seeing several books he had read in high school. He wondered at why someone would want to remove some of them.

"I won't speak of political parties or ideologies here because I worry that that would distract from the heart of my argument," he said. " ... When children are exposed to literature, good, great literature, they grow and develop empathy for other human beings. Yes, the books I mentioned do engage with serious themes: racism, bodily autonomy, mental health issues. But in doing so, the authors point to ideas and experiences and identities that are different than that of many teenagers and children reading them.

"This difference is key. If students do not, on a day-to-day basis, see people or hear about people that don't look or think like them, they will think that everyone else automatically shares their point of view and shares their lived experiences. There is a danger to this. They will not be prepared for a world that is diverse, vibrant, full of ideas and magic. They will have to learn slower than necessary, how to talk to other people. They will struggle to find commonality in their peers.

"Is that what we want for our kids? We want them to be isolated and naive? In my opinion, we need to trust kids more, we need to trust that they will be able to read hard books and that when the bookmark is down and the flashlight has been stored under the pillow, they will have gained a more complex understanding and respect of people who are different."