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Out of Darkness, by Ashley Hope Pérez, is a finalist for the 2016 Michael L. Printz Award, one of the highest honors in youth literature. It is loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, following the 1937 New London school explosion in East Texas. In the novel, a Mexican girl and a black boy fall in love, breaking all the rules about interracial romance during a volatile era in the history of Texas and the United States. One of the great threads of the book is the story of a white man obsessed with power and control.
This thread echoes precisely how Kara Bell, the father of a student at the Lake Travis Independent School District (LTISD), acted by interrupting the district’s COVID-related board meeting to deny the book.
“I don’t want my kids to learn about anal sex in middle school,” Bell told the board, according to Complex. “I have never had anal sex. I don’t want to have anal sex. I don’t want my kids to have anal sex. I want you to start focusing on education and not public health! ”
In fact, the book has an anal sex scene. But it is a scene embedded in a tremendous context of time, racism and power.
“What you’re reading,” Perez explains on Instagram, “comes from a part of the book that is about capturing the relentless sexual objectification and racialization of the Mexican-American main character.”
Bell sounds uncomfortable reading it, but the district still took his interruption and his extremely inaccurate reading of the book as a reason to take it out of the Hudson Bend and Bee Caves middle school libraries. Middle School.
LTISD took this action in order to follow its materials review policies. A board spokesman told KXAN that while the board has oversight of materials available in school libraries, these facilities do serve in loco parentis, unlike public libraries: they would not remove materials that would deny ideas to students on whom the district itself disagrees. However, books that contain vulgarity can be removed for this reason.
“However, a district must exercise its discretion in a manner consistent with the First Amendment,” the spokesman said.
Earlier this year, Kara Bell ran an unsuccessful campaign for a seat in LTISD. He was also issued an assault citation after pushing a Nordstrom Rack employee after refusing to put on a mask. Their behavior at the school board meeting aligns with their political stance and actions, and it is the students who pay the price.
Central Texas has become a benchmark for book challenges in recent years. Notably, Leander Independent School District continues its battle for an extensive list of titles for youth and adults in middle and high school. The district has removed a number of titles, caused police to shout about books on the shelves and a board member resigned after being unable to exercise more authority in removing books. No wonder the same tactics of interruption, reading non-contextualized passages, and orienting people’s books about blacks, browns, and strangers, which are challenged by white parents who see their voices give power in neighboring districts.
Jonathan Friedman, director of free speech and education at PEN America, notes that the current political climate is igniting these challenges.
“Political leaders Craven are fueling a panic about the alleged‘ divisive concepts ’being taught in schools, and this in turn has sparked a wave of fair but wrong calls from parents to censorship,” he says. “For anyone who believes in freedom and choice, calling for a ban on classroom books should be anathema. The solution to creating a better classroom for our children is not to try to cover the eyes of difficult or challenging books, even with those we disagree with. This is not how education should work.
Out of the darkness the district is currently reviewing.
Next week starts Banned Books Week and the author of the book will be part of a panel with author Chris Tomlinson, author of the book Forget the Alamo, recently challenged by the Texas government, on ongoing censorship in Texas. The free virtual talk will take place on September 28 at 7pm central.
Readers are encouraged to write to LTISD in support of freedom of information as well as in support of conservation. Out of the darkness in school libraries for students. You may email the Board at email@example.com using the following email template or in whole or in part:
Dear School Board,
Make sure students have access to Ashley Hope Pérez’s Out of Darkness by leaving it in the Hudson Bend and Bee Caves Middle School School Libraries. The historical novel features an East Texas story too often not included in the history books, while giving a Mexican-American girl a lead role. This is important for students to see, as a window and as a mirror, a vital opportunity to grow not only literacy skills, but also compassion for others.
Out of Darkness was an honor book of the Michael L. Printz Award, one of the highest honors of literary merit awarded to a book for young readers. It garnered numerous positive reviews at respected outlets such as Kirkus and Booklist.
Young readers are smart enough to stop reading when they feel uncomfortable, as well as smart enough to know that discomfort is part of the educational process. Our history in the United States is uncomfortable and it is thanks to books like Out of Darkness that we are allowed to sit back and understand these realities. More opportunities to get stories like these into the hands of readers (who can choose to pick them up alone in school libraries) will only help cultivate a stronger, smarter, more compassionate future population.
Maintain the values of First Amendment advocacy for all and restore the book to these libraries.
Thank you for your time.
The next LTISD meeting will be on October 20, at 6 p.m., in the Live Oak Room of the Center for Educational Development. If you are local, we encourage you to introduce yourself and support the inclusion of the book in school libraries.