A Call to Action for Educational Institutions: Stop Censorship and Stand-up for Change
I am white. I hold a master’s degree. I am able-bodied. I am heterosexual. I am neurotypical. I am of average body size. I own property. I am an English language speaker. I am a cisgender woman. I am a Canadian citizen. No, I am not a man, and no I am not completely free of mental health issues (anxiety disorder); However, I recognize that I am about as privileged as one can possibly be.
This privilege has afforded me certain comforts and opportunities throughout my life. One such comfort has been the ability to see myself in some of the literary and media representations presented to me throughout my life. Attending elementary and high school in Ontario Canada during the 80s and 90s, there was no lack of white authors with white perspectives filling the library shelves (although the works of white male authors dominated). In elementary school, the required reading included E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. In high school, the required reading included William Golding’s Lord of The Flies, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Let’s not forget the many works of Shakespeare. With the hundreds of books made available for my choosing, I was hard pressed to find literature which amplified the voices of BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, or any other diverse group for that matter. To be honest, I did not really think about it all that much growing up. Why? Because I had the privilege of not having to think about it.
Throughout my career as a post-secondary educator, it became clear to me that our personal identities can both directly and indirectly affect the choices we make, including the choice of reading material we allow and promote within our classrooms and schools. It also impacts our choices to restrict or fail to offer certain reading materials to our students. Several years ago, a final exam I created was rejected because the management at the time felt that the topic of 2SLGBTQIA+ might be uncomfortable for some students. The question I had was, and still is, whose comfort are we advocating for here?
Unfortunately, these censorship efforts within the field of education are still happening today. Back in February, author Tasha Spillett had an invitation to a high school cancelled because the principal felt the content of her graphic novel series, Surviving the City, would bring up discussions the students “would not be ready for”, and just this past week, we saw the Durham District School Board (DDSB) pull David A. Robertson’s The Great Bear from their schools. In response to her retracted invitation, Spillett argued in an Instagram post that, “Indigenous youth experience racism, and at minimum non-Indigenous youth need to be ready to learn about racism. Indigenous youth experience colonialism, and at minimum non-Indigenous youth need to be ready to learn about colonialism”. In response to DDSB’s decision to pull his book, Robertson has commented that not allowing children to read books that matter does harm.
Spillett and Robertson have it right! It is our job to provide our students, our children, with the education we lacked. It is time to fill our schools with books that matter; books that amplify a multitude of voices and perspectives. It is time to create safe spaces for all our students. It is time to use an informed equity lens when selecting books for and/or pulling books from our schools and classrooms. It is time to decolonize our curriculums to move toward closing opportunity gaps. It is time to advocate for all voices being truly listened to and heard.
Censoring books which amplify diverse voices and showcase diverse perspectives does harm to all of us. It keeps certain groups oppressed while promoting ignorance amongst the masses. It leaves us hungry for the learning that was not made available to us when we were younger, causing us to run to catch-up later in life (like I am now).
We cannot put our own comfort over the needs of our students. Change is not easy. It can be uncomfortable at times, but let’s set our comfort aside to create better learning opportunities for our children. As a mother of three, I want my children to live in a world that is more equitable and inclusive than the world I grew-up knowing and the world we live in today. What world do you want for our children?
Article by Janice Desroches (she/her)
Order David A. Robertson's, The Great Bear: The Misewa Saga, Book Two
Order Tasha Spillett's, Surviving the City Series: