Mary Ellen Cuzela, a Houston mother of three, has successfully petitioned her suburban school district to remove two novels from their libraries: “Lawn Boy” by California writer Jonathan Evison and “Losing the Girl” by comic artist MariNaomi. Cuzela, a substitute teacher for the Houston Independent School District, was inspired by Republican Texas lawmakers’ attempts to control what books are presented to children in school. In particular, she was inspired by House Committee on General Investigating Chair and Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth). Krause had written a letter containing a 16-page list of approximately 850 book titles that he wanted removed from school library shelves.
One may assume that it’s only right-wing individuals who are pushing for increased censorship of what books are displayed inside a classroom or school building. But there have also been instances of liberal parents calling for the ban of certain books. Therefore, a question is raised: what qualifications merit the banning of a book from school libraries?
According to more conservative individuals, it seems that books involving race, LGBTQ+ characters and topics relating to sex have no place in classrooms or school libraries. The majority of books on Krause’s list, along with the two novels Cuzela petitioned against, revolved around such topics. Meanwhile, those on the left are more likely to advocate against books that show harmful depictions of race and racism, as seen last year when the Burbank Unified School District removed “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men” among five banned books following parents’ complaints.
The differences in topics and ideologies that drive such calls for censorship do not change the overall negative effects from such actions. Although the various subjects and characters in these books may raise the eyebrows and concerns of many, the reality is they offer a source of representation and knowledge for students to learn more about the world around them.
For instance, one of the novels on Krause’s list, “What Is White Privilege?” by authors Leigh Ann Erikson and Kelisa Wing, directs its attention to a younger audience by using age-appropriate language to depict the concept of systematic racism. The novel’s goal is to educate young students on the topic of race and explore racism’s intricacies. As racism is a persistent problem in our country and is ingrained into every American system, it is important to learn about it. By educating young people about racism, a step is taken towards better understanding how to resolve an issue so present in American life. Yet, as a result of its untimely removal from Texas school libraries, students of all races lack the ability to access the knowledge the book holds.
Moreover, reading novels that contain LGBTQ+ characters or people of color allows students within those demographics to see themselves in these stories and, perhaps, feel less alone. Representation is a powerful tool that helps people of all ages resonate with those around them. As a child or young adult, one craves the kind of representation and relatability that can aid them as they navigate what it means to grow up, especially when it comes to being a part of a minority group. Therefore, students need to have access to such novels that do not shy away from these themes.
The wonderful thing about books is that they allow one to become educated on important matters that impact society and the very readers immersed in the storytelling. By banning novels that contain stories filled with social issues and minority groups, we are inevitably dooming students to a youth filled with confusion, misguidance and loneliness.
Lourdes Enriquez is an Opinion Contributing Writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.