OPINION: Removing Books Erases Opportunities to Learn About Others’ Experiences

My five children have gone through Canby School District, with the youngest currently a student at the high school. Four of the five have also been homeschooled. And my undergraduate degree from a Christian college is in secondary English education.

With that background, I am writing to express concern about books that are being challenged at Canby High School. As I understand it, the challenge is primarily based on sexual content.

I started reading this list more than 30 years ago when Toni Morrison’s Beloved was a required text at my Christian college. In more recent reads, Beyond Magenta: Transgendered Teens Speak Out taught me that life as a transgender teen is hard.

And of the Heartstopper series, one Christian blogger speaks to my experience when she writes that this was “one of the most innocent romances I have ever read. There are a few swear words, but no more than in any other [young adult] book. The only other reason it would be declared an obscenity is that the romance is between two boys, not a boy and a girl.”

I’ve been thinking about mirrors and windows. Some books create mirrors where I see myself. Other books create windows, giving me a glimpse into other people’s lives. My favorite genre? Memoir. Most of the time, memoirs are more window than mirror.

As a white, middle-class, Christian woman, these windows give me opportunities to hear from people who may not look like me, think like me, or have experienced the same things. But when they share their lives, I learn. I empathize. I feel compassion.

I will never know what it feels like to be a slave. To be subjected to childhood abuse. To be Muslim or Jewish. To walk in the shoes of a single mother, a transgender person, or an inner-city teen. For me, those are windows. But for some, they are mirrors.

When we break the mirror, not only do marginalized people lose the opportunity to see themselves, but the rest of us lose the opportunity to see beyond our own narrow experience.

My “guilty pleasure” is The Waltons TV show. In one episode in which books are being banned, John Boy says, “If you choose not to know about it, that’s freedom. But if you take a book…if you [ban that] book, then you can’t know about it and you’ve had your freedom taken away from you.”

Please don’t take away our children’s mirrors and windows. Our children’s freedom to both see themselves and to learn about other people. Please return Beloved, Heartstopper and Beyond Magenta to the library shelves. And if you care about this issue, know that your vote for Canby School Board matters.

Cynthia Hockman-Chupp
Canby School District Resident, educator, and parent

Help us build a sustainable news organization to serve Canby for generations to come! Let us know if you can support our efforts to expand our operations and keep all of our content paywall-free. #SwimWithTheCurrent!