Political Pressure Builds on What Teachers Assign

by Genevieve Mayle ‘23

Increasing controversy over the books taught in English classes has caused tensions between teachers and school districts. Books that focus on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and include LGBTQ+ characters are getting disproportionately targeted and banned in schools. This rising controversy has triggered some school districts to contend that flags and objects of any kind that display Black Lives Matter (BLM) and LGBTQ+ symbols should be banned as well.

Teachers and district-level curriculum specialists specifically pick out books included in school libraries and English curriculums. Book bans override these selections, the organization PEN America claims, as a “result of parent or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by lawmakers or other governmental officials.” Teachers, like third-grade Florida teacher Cassandra Oetinger-Kenski, are being told to “yank” books that are not “in compliance” with state laws. Under such pressure, Oetinger-Kenski told the Washington Post, “I would strongly consider leaving.” Former Pennsylvania English teacher Katherine Semisch stated in the same article that she believes the intention of the bans is to frighten teachers and librarians into self-censorship.

Sherwood English teacher Christopher Goodrich believes book censorship is “centered around a definition of identity that people do not like,” and that it is “a sad state of powerlessness from people who want to impose their morality on the public.”

Book censorship discussions have begun to spread to classroom displays. The Kettle Moraine School District in Wisconsin has prohibited teachers from “displaying political or religious messages in their classrooms or on their person, including gay pride flags and Black Lives Matter and We Back the Badge signs. Staff also may not say in emails what their preferred pronouns are,” reported The Associated Press.

Sherwood social studies teacher Joshua Kinnetz, who displays a number of flags/banners in his classroom including ones for BLM and Pride, says that his priority as an educator is to provide a safe environment to learn. “LGBTQ+ and African Americans are marginalized groups in our country. When a place feels unsafe, learning is hindered. It’s important to me that I let them know that I stand with them in solidarity and that my classroom is a safe place.