St. Louis-area students say banned books teach race and history

Mya Walker reads two or three books a month. She loves literature that depicts unfamiliar experiences, especially by authors of color or those who are LGBTQ.

High school student Francis Howell North High School said the works offer life lessons that teachers or parents may not know how to discuss with their students or children.

“The next books I plan to read are Toni Morrison’s ‘The Bluest Eye’ and some of the books that are in dispute,” Walker said. “I really like to read things that are new and different to me; it’s really, really important.

According to the American Library Association, Morrison’s Nobel Prize-winning novel is one of 10 most difficult books of 2021. Some people want the book removed from school library shelves because they say it contains sexually explicit content and depicts child sexual abuse.

Walker and other students may need to continue reading books outside of the required lesson plans, if school boards continue to face demands take books that deal with racism, gender, sexuality and history from school libraries.

Some students say white parents and Republican lawmakers are trying to prevent them from learning by banning booksespecially by black authors.

Brian Munoz

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St. Louis Public Radio

Mya Walker, a senior at Francis Howell North Secondary School, said students should read what they want to read and adults should be willing to talk to them about difficult topics. “They don’t want stories different from theirs to be heard, and I want to hear those stories,” she said of those trying to get books banned in schools.

Walker, who has a black father and a white mother, said she wants to read books by black authors because she doesn’t learn enough about black history. To help her better understand race in America, she enrolled in a dual enrollment program at St. Charles Community College.

“I’ve always been the kind of student who goes, ‘Oh, I want to know more about this. I’ll go home and get it or I’ll read a book about it. “Said Walker, 17. “I was tired of having to do this outside of class, rather than being provided with this information.

A group of students from University City High School were also determined to learn more about black history. After studying the New York Times Magazine Project 1619 initiative, some high school students asked district officials in 2019 to provide more material from the African-American perspective by black writers. The administrators agreed and encouraged them to produce their own projects to explore how race played a role in the nation’s history.

Mouhamed Ly, a junior from University City High School, and his classmates participated in these projects, which led them to continue reading books dealing with racism and history, such as “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism , and You” by Ibrahim X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. It was the second most disputed book in 2020.

Mouhamad Ly, a junior at University City High School, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, at the school library in University City, Mo. Ly volunteered to be a student facilitator in the reading and discussion of a community on the 1619 project: A New original history book.

Brian Munoz

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St. Louis Public Radio

Mouhamad Ly, a junior at University City High School, volunteered to be a student facilitator in a reading and discussion community on “The 1619 Project: A Storybook from a New Origin.”

Students should continue to read books that deal with difficult history with different perspectives to accurately reflect what has happened over the centuries, Ly said.

The 16-year-old said when teachers didn’t include material about black people, it made him feel left out in the classroom. He said some white people want to prevent students from learning the truth.

“Black history is American history, and it can’t be ignored,” Ly said. “It just needs to be fixed, and all black students, white students, and all students need to be able to learn more about black history if they want to.”

Some white parents say teaching race and history alienates white students and makes them feel like oppressors. But another University City High School junior, Michael Simmons, said black history is meant to teach where African Americans came from, the hardships they endured and how they contributed to the founding. from the country.

“Even though these things can be hard to deal with, that’s the truth,” Simmons, 17, said. “It happened, and there’s nothing we can do about it to change what happened, but accept it and do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

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Brian Munoz

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St. Louis Public Radio

Michael Simmons, a junior from University City High School, is one of the students who participated in the community reading of “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story Book”.

A recent report by PEN America, a nonprofit that fights for free speech, found that schools nationwide banned 1,586 books in the past nine months. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 729 challenges to banning library books or academic reading materials in 2021, resulting in 1,597 book challenges or the removal of reading materials. Association officials said it was the highest number of attempted book bans since they began compiling the list 20 years ago.

The Missouri Library Association does not track statewide book challenges, but association officials said many Missouri parents object primarily to certain books because they contain obscenities or references to the sexual life of homosexual people.

Brian Munoz

/

St. Louis Public Radio

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas is included in a photo illustration at Left Bank Books.

Librarians and educators are the link between readers and books, and it is the association’s responsibility to fight to keep books on library shelves, said association president Cindy Thompson , in February. The group rejects claims that deleting books will hide ideas inside books from children when students have digital access to them.

Ajah Green, a senior at Kirkwood High School, found material and ideas about gender and sexuality that some parents try to shield from their children on social apps such as TikTok.

“You’re going to find out about it on social media or if you don’t learn it somewhere, you’re going to look it up on the internet,” Green said. “So I don’t think they should ban or I don’t think parents should pick and choose what they want their kids to read because eventually they’ll be exposed to it.”

The 18-year-old said one of her favorite books is ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas. It deals with police violence against African Americans and its effects. The book, published in 2017, appears on the American Library Association’s 10 Most Disputed Books list every year except for 2019.

Green, who is black, thinks the book should stay in school libraries because it teaches black children how to prepare for confrontations with police and discrimination.

“It shows what’s going on in the real world today and what’s happened between the police and black people in general,” said Green, an avid reader. “It gives real insight to people who don’t really know – like other races – what we’re going through and what we’re accused of on a daily basis.”

Green wants to continue reading banned books by black authors. She said that without them, she would miss learning about various black experiences.

“Taking the books off the shelves will affect student learning because they wouldn’t be able to know their history because a lot of black authors write about history and students wouldn’t be able to learn about their culture and they wouldn’t have any idea of ​​that . matter.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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