Book banning and book burning is an old strategy designed to control information. Stephen King—the famous author and Twitter presence (https://twitter.com/StephenKing)—recommends (I’m paraphrasing here) that everyone rush out and buy and read banned books, because they contain important knowledge.
I’ve been disappointed at efforts by state legislatures, governors, school superintendents, parents, and others who have been involved in book banning, as well as any or all of the above who have suggested that critical race theory (CRT) shouldn’t be taught in colleges and universities (it’s not really taught in any formal or in-depth way in K-12 schools, but even if it were, why not?).
CRT, books, and other sources of knowledge offer perspectives. A couple days ago, I received an email from a professor and student offering me feedback on a paragraph in our counseling theories text. From the student’s perspective, the paragraph felt anti-Semitic. I pulled up the paragraph on my computer, read it, and although I didn’t see it exactly the same way as the student, she had an important point—the passage could be taken in a negative way. I emailed the student and her professor and thanked them for the feedback, noting we’ll change that paragraph in the next edition.
One goal that Rita and I have in writing textbooks is to be inclusive, accessible, and non-racist/non-sexist. Although I’m sure we always fall short of our ultimate goal, in isolation and without feedback from others, we could never even come close to or make progress in accomplishing our inclusiveness goal. We were grateful to receive the feedback. Another goal we have is to keep learning. This experience, and many others, leads me to think that there may be no better way to learn, than to listen to the perspectives of others. Why not? Where’s the benefit in closing our ears and being defensive.
Just to be clear, I’m opposed to banning books; I’m opposed to limiting the teaching of CRT; and I’m opposed to other people trying to control information available to me and others. My best guess is that when other people try to control information, they probably fear the information. Why? I don’t know, but IMHO, putting our collective heads in the sand (this brings to mind the movie, “Don’t Look Up”) is NOT a particularly useful strategy for dealing with fears.
I teach theories all the time. At the University of Montana, I’ve taught Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy nearly every fall semester for many years. Rita and I have a textbook on theories of counseling and psychotherapy published by John Wiley & Sons. All the hubbub over CRT has convinced me that I need to commit myself to teaching more CRT concepts in my theories course. Like all theories, I’ll treat it like a theory we can learn from.
Last week we had a visit from a university faculty person from a state where professors are being coerced into not teaching CRT. Hearing him talk about this experience made me wonder how I’d handle it if I was told I shouldn’t teach CRT at UM. Obviously, I don’t know my exact response to that scenario, and I hope it never develops, but my best hypothesis, based on a little personal theorizing, is that I’d get fired or go to jail before I agreed to NOT teach CRT, because it’s a theory, a perspective (and not the only one), from which we should all strive to learn.
I know I’m being overly dramatic, but I strongly believe that learning from the perspectives of others is a good thing. I don’t plan on stopping. To steal (and modify) an old line from the NRA: I’ll give you my banned books and theories when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.
2 thoughts on “Banned Books, Critical Race Theory, and My Cold, Dead Hands”
Thanks John. Appreciate the time you took to write this and share your authenticity. I too would be fired if told I could not teach certain facts. Take care and be well.
Thanks Barbara. I’m glad you appreciated the post and wish you well in your teaching endeavors! JSF