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.
No doubt you have been inundated with emails over the last few days over the school board’s decisions to remove The Miseducation of Cameron Post from The Blue Hen list, and I won’t bother to restate what you have certainly read again and again. Ms. Danforth tweeted this morning that an email from you started that your vote was in no way a reflection of the “leanings of homosexuality” in the novel. I’ve also read that the reason Cameron Post was struck from the list while other novels which contained the same “objectionable language” was that Cameron Post was the only novel upon which a challenge was issued.
Assuming those two things are true, do you and the board intend to take any action regarding the other books on the list which were not challenged but which also contain the language you find so objectionable? I am quite sure a list of those books was provided to you by several contributors to AfterEllen, but I would be more than happy to provide you with another copy of the list if needed.
Furthermore, Browseabout Books, an independent book store in Rehoboth Beach has happily agreed to working with those of us who are concerned about what we believe to be homophobic censorship by the school board by working to make Cameron Post available at no charge to students in the area who wish to read it. I would like to challenge you to contact Alex at (302) 226-2665 and make a donation yourself.
I look forward to a prompt response from you.
Later that afternoon, Jenn received this reply:
I will certainly go to Browseabout tomorrow and donate 100 dollars to this cause. I will also request a reinstatement of this publication to the list, but a suspension of the list until our curriculum folks can vet this list appropriately. You are right in the realization that the Cameron Post book was the only one brought to us for consideration for removal from the list and the reasons cited was profanity. I can assure you that I am not homophobic and never did this area of the book enter the conversation. I will make the motion, let’s see if it gets a second, allowing a vote. Thank you for your time on this topic.
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.