Social studies, including civics and sociology, are considered a core content area in most elementary schools, giving them importance comparable to that of language arts and mathematics. Recently, however, various aspects of social studies education have come under attack, with critics questioning topics which promote tolerance for any sort of “otherness.”
“Every child should have ample opportunities to see themselves and their experiences in their school library”
Without proper awareness of social issues both presently and historically, children struggle to fluently navigate the diversity of the modern world. Thus, it is in our best interest to keep culturally relevant content and discussion in the classroom, and the best way to do this is by voting in your local school board election this year.
Within the past few years, many states (most notably Florida) have passed bills intended to censor any mention of human sexuality or gender identity in schools K-12. This refers to lessons for younger students on self-expression and stereotypes to those for high schoolers discussing safe sexual practices. Many school districts, including the one where I’m employed, are trying to ban sex ed altogether. I wonder how quickly teen pregnancy and STD infection statistics will spike as more and more districts follow suit.
In Texas, Alaska, and Pennsylvania, certain districts are allowing schools to ignore students’ preferred pronouns and bar them from the facilities and sports teams that align with their gender identity. In areas of Oregon, Wisconsin, and Maryland, teachers have been asked to remove “political” decorations such as pride flags and other indicators that their classrooms are safe spaces.
A cumulative means of educational censorship is book banning. Although literature has been contested for centuries for illicit or inflammatory material, the social studies revolution has led to its sudden resurrection. More than 2,570 books were challenged in 2022, according to the American Library Association. For seven of the top ten most frequently banned titles the reason was LGBTQ inclusion. Contemporary award-winning novels like Melissa by Alex Gino and Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe are taken off shelves and recommended reading lists every day, further limiting students’ acquisition of diverse viewpoints and knowledge on current social issues.
Book banning, especially to this extent, is harmful to students’ perspectives of themselves and others. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s groundbreaking 1990 essay “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” asserted that literature serves as much more than a modality for practicing reading skills. When children read about characters who look and feel like them, they grow more confident in their identities.
For those who don’t fall into minority groups, books that offer insight on “otherness” teach authentic social lessons and protect against the distorted story that majority voices may tell. Every child should have ample opportunities to see themselves and their experiences in their school library. I have always been a bookworm, and I still remember the first time I came across a queer character in a young adult novel. As an insecure high schooler, seeing that positive representation on the page was enormously affirming.
Hannah Linkowsky resides and is employed in the Hamilton Township school district.