GDS owns books that other people find controversial. Our libraries are full of books that contain challenging concepts, ideas, and language: books from multiple perspectives, identities, eras, and differing ideologies.
Here at GDS, we believe that reading broadly gives students insights into both themselves and others. Emily Style called this “windows and mirrors.” This is the language we use in the GDS libraries with students: Books may show you something familiar to your own experiences, like a mirror, or they may open a window onto the experiences of people who are different from you. We recognize that in the world where we live, certain identities are raised above others. In the library, we make conscious choices to stack our shelves with—and to promote to our students—books which lift up stories featuring historically marginalized identities. We also raise what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “the danger of a single story,” naming that a story about one member of a group doesn’t represent the experience of the entire group.
We believe in student-centered choice for free reading. As we say in our guiding school document, “A GDS Student Will…” take risks, self-advocate, and learn actively: this is exactly what they do every time they browse amongst our shelves. Research and experience has shown us that providing autonomy for students increases their intrinsic motivation to read, learn, and grow.
Thus, your GDS librarians take pride in the fact that we provide our community with books of all sorts: books that encourage self-reflection and enlightenment, sympathy and empathy, head-nodding and head-shaking.
GDS, among others (see #UnitedAgainstBookBans), stands against censorship. Book banners argue thusly: We are unequipped to help our students/children deal with certain ideas that we don’t agree with. If our kids simply don’t encounter those ideas, they—and we—won’t have to deal with them.
One category of such ideas are those which cause readers to question what they’ve been taught elsewhere. To us, books which do this are among the best available! We trust our students to rise to the challenge of having their preconceptions attacked. We think it is valuable to ask students to think again, more deeply, considering additional perspectives and viewpoints.
Another rationalization for book banning is when books contain concepts, ideas, language, or situations that may cause students to feel emotional discomfort, confusing feelings, or even pain. Depending on the reader’s experiences, age, and identity, different books may elicit different feelings. In extreme cases, content in books can even trigger internalized trauma.
These situations are trickier… and GDS still comes down on the side of anti-censorship. For one thing, a book which distresses one student may evoke an emotional awakening in another. For another, we believe that books, as microcosms of the larger world, can be excellent training grounds for reality. Rather than protect students from difficult experiences, we believe it is better to engage their emotional intelligence via the relatively safe experience provided by the page in front of them. Used this way, “objectionable” books can actually provide opportunities to equip students with the tools they need to process and move forward.
From their first days of PK through their ninth grade orientations and beyond, GDS students learn that they have support from a vast network of peers and trusted adults. If a student encounters something in a book that they are not equipped to deal with, they have a community here to support them and provide a safe place to process.
That’s what reading is. Individual and yet communal, making the reader a part of the conversation and developing an internal sense of self in relation to the world. GDS students don’t simply believe everything they read, or everything that’s read to them. Rather, they engage with books, they question, and they challenge themselves… and hopefully, in doing so, they will one day be uniquely equipped to lead the world.