Many of us read with shock and outrage the news this week that a Tennessee school board has banned the teaching of the brilliant graphic novel about the Holocaust, Maus, because it contains “profanity” and one nude image. While we should breathe a sigh of relief that our children are not being educated in Tennessee, attempts to ban books is on the rise in our own state of New Jersey.
Last Fall, in a thinly veiled attempt to pander to their right wing constituents, NJ Senators Pennachio and Testa introduced legislation to ban the teaching of “Critical Race Theory”, despite the fact that it is not, and has never been, taught in NJ public schools. Community members across New Jersey, from Wayne to North Hunterdon have tried to challenge books about LGBTQ youth. At a Board of Ed meeting in Westfield, parents read from the pages of Toni Morrison’s acclaimed The Bluest Eye, declaring that its forthright depiction of rape and incest made it inappropriate for High School students.
In many cases parents and school administrators are taking it upon themselves to determine what is “appropriate” reading, despite having no qualifications or experience to judge. Why is it that so often the stories found to be “inappropriate” are those told from the point of view of the marginalized and oppressed: persecuted Jews, impoverished African-Americans and derided LGBTQ people? We need to remain vigilant to this small-minded and illiberal mindset even in our own blue State.