By Published: Oct. 26, 2023

At a panel discussion co-sponsored by CU Boulder Center for Humanities and the Arts, literacy experts championed children’s access to literature

Though censorship and book banning are nothing new, the recent upswing in this censorship in public institutions has compelled many to protest these limitations on their access to diverse views.

During a panel discussion hosted at the Boulder Public Library Wednesday evening, co-sponsored by the University of Colorado Boulder Center for Humanities and the Arts, Adam Crawley, a CU Boulder assistant teaching professor of literacy studies and the discussion's moderator, led a conversation on the right to read in K-8 schools and libraries and the fundamental right to access literature.

Jo Currier, a fifth-grade teacher in the Boulder Valley School District and a mother of three, offered the perspective of a parent and an educator. Currier strongly supported “promoting access for all students and representation in the curriculum.”

Colorado author Andrea Wang, who explores Asian American culture and identity in her picture books and middle school novels, said that as a second-generation Chinese American, she recognizes the importance of children being able to read books in which the characters are like them. “I write the books that I needed as a kid,” she said. “Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in a book.”

Panelists onstage at censorship discussion

Panelists Adam Crawley (left), Jo Currier, Andrea Wang and David Farnan discuss frequently challenged children's books.

David Farnan, director of the Boulder Public Library who has extensive experiences dealing with censorship, noted that this current surge in book banning is due, in part, to the ongoing “culture war.” Mentioning the librarian code of ethics, Farnan emphasized that he “will not just oppose but resist censorship in all of its forms.”

Farnan said he believes the recent uptick in censorship is related, in part, to an “orchestrated attack primarily on LGBTQ authors and stories, and authors and stories about people of color.” He added that this attack is on “any type of curriculum having to do with a story that is not having to do with White hegemony.”

Wang added that this is also due to the “fear of the other,” and cited the “rising anti-Asian sentiment since the pandemic began.”

In response to the question of whether censorship might ever be appropriate, Currier noted how some curriculum can tend to favor one predominant perspective over less dominant ones, so educators face a challenging dilemma. Should they opt to substitute these materials with more diverse viewpoints, or should the original content be taught, but through a more critical lens? As difficult a question as that is, it is important to make sure that there is equal opportunity for representation, Currier said.

Another challenging aspect is the issue of self-censorship. Pointing to a few recent examples—including the award ceremony for a Palestinian author being canceled at the Frankfurt Book Fair and, earlier this year, an author's decision not to publish a novel set in Russia following criticism from Ukrainian readers—Farnan said that these acts are “just solely inappropriate” and that it both “underestimates the power of books and overestimates it too."

“Books do not cause harm,” Farnan said. “They may represent viewpoints that are different. They may be offensive, they may be something that you find difficult to identify with, but you can choose not to read them. The point of books is, in some ways, to explore ideas and selves and identities and worlds that you cannot and do not live.”

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