The book includes sexually explicit images; superintendent calls them appropriate in the name of students' "sexual health"

Sometimes there is a debate to be had. This is not one of those times.

WARNING: This post includes sexually explicit images that appear in books accessible to students at school.

As debates about school curriculum explode around the country, sexually explicit content in school libraries has caught the attention of parents from Indiana to Virginia to Rhode Island where I live. In some cases, the content is considered too graphic and offensive to be read aloud at a school board meeting yet, somehow, it sits on book shelves for students to read during the school day or check out of the library.

One book that is causing an uproar is Gender Queer. It is a graphic novel. Below is a short synopsis taken from Good Reads.

Below are the (graphic) screenshots taken directly from the book:

This book is not only on the library shelf at North Kingstown High School in Rhode Island but also displayed prominently in a display case.

(I did hear that the book has been removed from the display but I have not confirmed that.)

Nicole Solas, a mom and outspoken critic of the gender ideology that increasingly permeates K-12 schools, was the first one to expose Gender Queer in North Kingstown High School. Trained as an attorney, she was so convinced that the book qualified as pornography under the law that she submitted a witness statement and evidence to the state police on October 10th.

When a concerned parent reached out to the superintendent via email with the subject line “inappropriate material in high school,” he defended the book on the grounds of students’ “sexual health.”

Here is his email in full—I do not know what the second book is that he is referring to in the first sentence.

I must admit that this response by the superintendent floored me and I suspect that this email exchange will not be the end of the conversation in North Kingstown.

The other cases of parents expressing concern and yes, outrage, over the sexually graphic content in their school libraries have led school boards and superintendents to call for a review and even pull the books in question until that review is complete. In this Rhode Island case, the superintendent doubles down and even compares this graphic novel with The David by Michelangelo.

Is he serious?

I spoke to an experienced high school librarian about this controversy and she offered helpful advice, insight and wisdom:

Censorship can be a slippery slope but just like everything, we treat it as a binary- when we’re talking about kids, we need to treat it with nuance and respect. My advice is:

1. Parents, know your rights. What’s the review process for books and materials? Can parents find out what their kid checks out from the library? How? How do you file a request for a book to be reviewed?

2. Approach in good faith. I don’t have the time to read all 10,000 books.

3. In a pluralistic country, you and I might have a disagreement on what’s appropriate for a 13 year old. I might not mind a book with the F word if it’s used a few times. You might not think that’s appropriate. Some things are very clear (and I think the example you are using here is one)*, but some things are truly a matter of your values. Share those values with your children and tell them why they’re important to you. Tell them why you don’t want them reading books with the F word in them, for example. Even if you don’t agree with a decision about a book, that doesn’t mean that your kid has to check it out at school.

*she is referring to the book Gender Queer here.

I am including links to write-ups/news stories about other books causing consternation and even fury at school board meetings because of their sexually explicit content.

Kansas

To read more about this one, click here.

Fairfax County, VA

To read more about this one, click here.

Indiana

To read more about this one, click here.


I’ll leave you with some very wise words from the very-in-the-news-this-week, Dave Chappelle.

Talk soon,

Erika