A mere two days ago, a number of us brainstormed about what to do over a Delaware school board’s decision to drop The Miseducation of Cameron Post from a summer reading list. Since then, so many of you have rallied with us. The call to action has been pinging around Twitter and Tumblr, and a remarkable bookstore that previously had no alliance with AfterEllen whatsoever jumped in to sell our donated copies of the novel and be a voice against censorship and a resource for Delaware teens.
It felt like we were doing something good, but things still hurt. One voice particularly moved some of us: a reader who had gone to Cape Henlopen High herself saw our call and spoke up about the homophobia she had endured there, and how the presence of this book might have helped her. The school board replied: We’re sorry that happened, but this really isn’t about homophobia. The author herself, Emily M. Danforth, reached out and received the same school board reply: We’re sorry, but this really isn’t about homophobia. Well, OK, then! That solves that. And with stories like these, it’s hard to not feel helpless.
But take heed, dear readers: keep shouting. Because sometimes if you just keep on shouting, someone will listen.
One of the contributors to our original post, Jenn Fitzpatrick, sent just one more email to the school board president yesterday, frustrated that they hadn’t addressed our main point: that the other books on the list contain curse words, too.
Later that afternoon, Jenn received this reply:
He also asked if he could share Jenn’s email with the rest of the board for debate. He then really went all in, promising that if he read no other book this summer, he would make sure to read this one.
What brought about this sudden turnaround? Well, probably a lot of emails and calls from folks like you.
Of course, the book still isn’t actually reinstated. We’ll have to wait for the board to vote again. There is also the possibility that the curriculum folks could examine the other books and find them ALL inappropriate and scrap the whole summer reading idea altogether. A similar action took place this year in a Pensacola school district. Emily Danforth, by the way, is encouraging readers to support and read the WHOLE Blue Hen list, for which she is currently having a giveaway on her Tumblr.
And even in victory, it’s easy for cynicism to seep in. Is Mr. Brittingham making this 180 and throwing his money at Broweseabout just to save face? Sure. Is he actually homophobic? I don’t know. But the point still is that we were angry about a thing, and we did something about a thing, and then, as far as we know, we won.
It’s also at times like these that I’m reminded that even our villains aren’t always complete villains. I ranted in our original post that school boards are often out of touch and often have completely too much power, and I still believe those things are absolutely true. But people who elect to spend their time on school boards typically do so for a reason: they care about kids. Parents who complain about books being too mature or too vile for their children can easily be cast as ignorant monsters, and sure, sometimes they are. But there is a natural instinct to want to protect your kids, and that instinct is not bad.
When books are challenged or banned, it’s almost always because people are scared. Angering parents can literally be career-ruining for educators, and parents can’t be faulted for being frightened of sending their kids into the world, full of ideas they disagree with and things that can hurt them. Scared people aren’t always necessarily bad people.
But what parents, administrators, school boards, and teachers have to remember is that the world is scary. The world is full of things that hurt us, like homophobia, and full of things we’re not ready to face, like accepting people who we were always taught to fear. We have to acknowledge that scary world as a reality, one that we have to step up and deal with. Because our children deal with it every day. And only when we acknowledge this world can we also teach them that it can change.