Banned Books in Other Schools Make Me Grateful for GDS

Digital illustration by Rowan Magnell.

Spring 2023: As I was scrolling through TikTok on a tiring school night, a video of a woman testifying in front of a Florida school board popped up on my “For You” page. The woman, who was the mother of two middle school students, was passionately advocating for the removal of All Boys Aren’t Blue, a collection of stories by George Johnson about their queer identity, from the school curriculum. In her opinion, the LGBTQ themes in the book were inappropriate for her children. Thoughts began to formulate in my head: Why is a young adult anthology so harmful that it needs to be removed from a curriculum? What is the purpose of banning books in the first place? 

It turns out that book-banning, when a school district removes a particular book or literary piece from its curriculum and libraries due to objections from an interest group, is quite common in this country—over the past few years, book bans in schools have become increasingly popular. During the 2022-2023 school year, there was a 33 percent increase in book bans over the year before. It is not just happening in a particular region of the country, either; attempts to ban books in schools occurred in all 50 states in 2022. 

It is important to note that interest groups and politicians are the ones advocating for banning books. “There is a movement afoot spearheaded by certain members of the right who are fishing for what they call parental rights,” said high school librarian Rhona Campbell. “It is a code for pushing their own agenda.” 

Book-banning attempts are also focusing on a particular subject: books that discuss LGBTQ issues. Of the top 13 banned books last year, seven of them had queer themes. Representation of the queer community is decreasing because interest groups or parents feel uncomfortable sharing ideas about LGBTQ stories with children. For LGBTQ children who are already feeling self-conscious about their identities, book bans can lead to more harm because the children can’t read stories about people who have similar backgrounds and experiences to them.  

Banned books also limit the quality of education. The whole point of learning is to look at a variety of perspectives and opinions in order to understand a topic at large. When students are limited in the information they learn, they don’t receive a holistic education. 

GDS veers in another direction. Instead of the community pushing to ban controversial books and ideas from our curriculum, we embrace them. We are exposed to a variety of different perspectives in our classes, and we learn from writers who have ideas that don’t line up with the school’s values. For example, when I read John C. Calhoun’s speech arguing that slavery was a positive good in my English 11 class, I was exposed to pro-slavery ideologies. Even though the ideas presented are harmful, reading Calhoun’s work allowed me to better understand abolitionism and the question of slavery in the 1800s. 

Being at an independent school, we do not have to worry about politicians pushing their agendas on our curriculum. Teachers are able to choose history and literature that prepare students for the real world, when we will have to encounter ideas that are different from ours. 

Campbell said that while students and parents had raised concerns about certain books at the school, the librarians have never had to remove a book.  She added that faculty are able to have meaningful conversations with those who are concerned to explain why it is in the curriculum. “At GDS, we have such human relationships with our families that we are able to sit down and talk with people about their concerns,” Campbell said. 

Book bans and censorship in schools across the country have made me grateful for GDS because we have access to so many perspectives that enrich our learning. We are able to have difficult conversations about sensitive topics that make us more aware of the world around us. Books that emphasize marginalized voices are important parts of our curriculum. From Giovanni’s Room to Persepolis, we are exposed to a plethora of different ideas. The breadth of literature prepares us for different opinions so we can tackle important issues in the future.