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Every Arizona student will suffer if we implement book bans


Every Arizona student will suffer if we implement book bans

Mar 30, 2023 | 6:05 pm ET
By Elijah Watson
Every Arizona student will suffer if we implement book bans
Photo via Getty Images

Growing up in a small, conservative town in Kansas, I always felt like I was living in a bubble. I was constantly bullied for my beliefs, my mannerisms, my hobbies — anything you could think of. I remember having rocks thrown at me by a group of eighth graders for simply mentioning my support for President Barack Obama. As you can imagine, I didn’t have the easiest time growing up.

The only thing that even remotely allowed me to escape the confines of this bubble were books. At the local thrift store, while my mom looked through the chicken-themed kitchen utensils and plates, I would run to explore the bookshelves. Through books like “Don Quixote” and “The Count of Monte Cristo,” I was able to come to the realization there was a much better world outside of my small town. I was able to see that the real world was much bigger, much more diverse, and much more accepting than the reality I was living in. 

Sadly, the world I was able to explore through books is now in jeopardy. A bill currently going through the Arizona Legislature, Senate Bill 1700, would ban certain books from classrooms and libraries. Proponents say it will clean up our classrooms and school libraries by removing pornography and books that groom children for pedophilia. Who could be against that?

But this is censorship and deceit in their purest forms. Instead of protecting young people, this measure wants to deny them the very resources they need to help them understand and deal with the reality of a complex, changing and diverse world. 

As a recent graduate of our state’s public schools, I believe that libraries and classrooms must be welcoming places that encourage students to think and to reason critically, raise questions and engage in honest, and sometimes even uncomfortable, conversations. Students should not have to stumble upon the books they need in thrift stores, as I did. 

When I look at the Republican-backed SB1700 — and so many book bans like it around the country — I see an unprecedented and disturbing effort to strip me and other students of the opportunity to grow and expand our world, to receive a full and comprehensive education. In particular, I see a concerted effort to censor differing and diverse voices, people, ideas and viewpoints. 

Last year, book bans occurred in more than 100 school districts in 32 states. 

According to PEN America, purely sexual material was not the primary target. Roughly 40% of books pulled from the shelves contained prominent characters of color, and the same percentage included LGBTQ themes and characters. 

Instead of protecting young people, book bans aim to deny them the very resources they need to help them understand and deal with the reality of a complex, changing and diverse world.

The wording in SB1700 makes its intention very clear. Along with targeting books that are “lewd or sexual,” the measure also aims to remove material that “promotes gender fluidity and gender pronouns.” 

What does this tell trans kids about their place in our community? Why are we automatically equating gender with something lewd?

And it’s not only marginalized students who will feel the brunt of this extreme legislation: All students will suffer. Any number of important books can get swept up and swept away. Among the country’s most banned authors, there are winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature, the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the NAACP Image Award and many more. 

Classic novels like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” textbooks about sexual health and history books about slavery have been challenged. School districts around the country have even removed comics such as “Batman” and “X-Man” and a graphic version of Shakespeare. 

All it takes is the complaint of one parent or a politically motivated group for a book — even, say, “The Count of Monte Cristo” — to be gone for the foreseeable future.

How can Arizona students expect to receive the kind of broad and challenging education required to get into good colleges and to compete for the best jobs with this terrible limitation? Our public schools already rank near the very bottom of public schools in the country. We are #46 among 50 states. 46th! 

Why aren’t our lawmakers putting the time and energy into improving our schools rather than in targeting books that have been loved and cherished for generations?