The calendar is slowly ticking toward election day, and with it comes the potential to vastly reshape the future of education in New Jersey. Worrisome trends in allowing political groups to dictate the library collections of schools and youth access to diverse literature have trickled into the state.
Through our school boards and state representatives, these national organizations are trying to find a foothold in Camden County. We must stand up and loudly proclaim that this extremism has no place here.
As a librarian serving teens, I purchase books with the understanding that not every book is for every reader. It is for the teens, often with their parents, to discover what fits their maturity level. Parents have every right to guide their children’s reading choices, but not to make decisions for other people’s children.
The power of books cannot be overstated. They are not only essential to practicing the fundamental skill of reading. They help young people understand complex issues around them, and those issues will continue to exist in society even if the books do not. Books give readers a glimpse into so many lives, building empathy and compassion. The majority of challenged books feature LGBTQ people or people of color. These young people are in our schools, and they deserve to see themselves represented in books. Their stories should not be silenced because they make someone uncomfortable.
Before election day, we should ask our candidates to sign Unite Against Book Ban’s candidate pledge. This pledge states, “I trust individuals to make their own decisions about what they read. I also believe parents have the right to direct their own child’s reading without dictating what books other people’s children are allowed to read. I denounce the banning of books in schools and libraries.” (https://uniteagainstbookbans.org/pledge/) This affirmation of the freedom to read and the freedom to learn unhindered by outside forces should be an easy sell. When polled about book bans, Americans were decidedly against them. So, ask your candidates to sign the pledge. If they do not agree that all parents have a right to guide their own children’s reading habits, vote for someone who does.