David Levithan

David Levithan

True: All parents have the right to influence their own child’s education. Equally true: No parent has the right to dictate the education of all children based on their own personal beliefs.

The current controversy over including LGBTQ+ stories in classroom libraries in Loudoun County schools comes down to an attempt by some parents to impose their personal viewpoints on the entire school district. The National Coalition Against Censorship, which advocates for kids’ right to read, calls this “viewpoint discrimination.” And the collateral damage of this discrimination is borne not by the parents but by the children. Because, in truth, this controversy is about more than free speech principles. It’s about empathy and making kids’ lives less painful, sometimes to the point of saving them.

I published my first Young Adult novel, “Boy Meets Boy,” 16 years ago, which means that for 16 years I’ve witnessed the importance of getting LGBTQ+ literature into the hands of children and teenagers. For LGBTQ+ kids, the literature can be a lifeline – a word that is not a metaphor here. It is an actual lifeline, telling kids their lives have worth, and giving them the strength to keep on going even when they want to give up on life itself. And for kids who don’t identify as LGBTQ+, the books provide a window into what kids around them are going through, which helps them become better allies and better people. Books are one of the safest and most valuable ways to learn about difference and build empathy. We authors don’t create the world with our stories. Instead, we show the world as it is and as it can be. The power of that certainly scares some people; but for the kids who need it, it’s essential.

The existence of LGBTQ+ stories isn’t enough. Students must be able to access them. They must be able to read them when they’re struggling with their own feelings and need to know they are not alone. When they’re not sure if their families will be open to discussing their experiences, they need guidance to navigate to the safe and sure place they need to be. When they need help putting their own stories into words, they need the help of other stories that link them to the wider world.

Books that honor LGBTQ+ histories and narratives are disproportionately censored in schools, in an attempt (almost always doomed) to silence LGBTQ+ voices in the community and the classroom. Such censorship stigmatizes an already marginalized community and is especially harmful to LGBTQ+ youth who face serious threats to their mental and physical health. Classrooms should be welcoming spaces where students can ask questions and express their own thoughts, trusting that their teachers will be ready to guide them toward deeper understanding and away from the despair that comes from how they are seen, not who they are.

Too often, censorship masks itself as the much more palatable idea of “protection.” We all want to protect our children. But preventing them from learning, discovering worlds and lives beyond their own, stifling their inquiry and growth, does nothing to protect children – it only protects parents from having to explain the world around them.

Acknowledging the existence of diversity in gender expression and identity does not make a story sexually explicit. A kiss between two boys is no more graphic than a kiss between a boy and a girl. Books like "Prince and Knight," which uses a traditional fairy tale to tell a love story between two male characters, and "My Princess Boy," about a boy expressing himself by wearing dresses, are age-appropriate children’s books that have been challenged for “sexual explicitness” despite the fact that they have no references to sex. Depriving students of access to these books creates a dangerous narrative that omits the experiences of millions. How is empathy to grow in such an environment? Every time a book about LGBTQ+ characters is removed from the shelf, a child is told they don’t matter, their story isn’t important, their life isn’t valuable.

Loudoun County Public Schools must remember its goals for the Diverse Classroom Library initiative: “To invest in celebrating its student population” by choosing books that “reflect and honor our student population and those around them.”

Love is the reason these books have been written. Love is the reason these books are read. And love is the reason these books will be defended, and will continue to be shared.

__________ 

David Levithan is the author of “Boy Meets Boy,” “Two Boys Kissing,” “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” (with Rachel Cohn), along with other titles. He is the publisher and editorial director at Scholastic. The National Coalition Against Censorship promotes freedom of thought, inquiry and expression and opposes censorship in all its forms.

__________

More news coverage: Loudoun County School Board addresses discourse of ‘hate and anger’ around diverse libraries

 

(38) comments

EdMyers

Aaah the culture wars. Every person of any culture should be respected at school and not be forced to change. However, as a learning environment, they must be exposed to the cultures of all others. When conflict exists between cultures, the preservation of life and liberty and educational goal override one cultures demands for others to adopt their righteousness standards.

MitchT

Ed, lots of inconsistencies in your thoughts there. You can't respect every culture when they have opposing beliefs. As Justice Potter Stewart said, there is no such thing as neutrality. He said if you kept everything about every religion out of education, it would not be neutral--you'd be teaching strongly that God is irrelevant to science, history, language, etc. You also say people "must" be exposed to other cultures. I happen to agree to a certain extent, but that is your personal righteousness standard you insist must be imposed on everyone. You set another personal standard to be imposed on everyone in your last sentence. As long as we have a multi-cultural society, which will likely be as long as our society lasts, having schools run by the government is going to discriminate against one and usually more than one culture. If you actually believe in liberty then you would strongly support true school choice, where any public funding can be used at any educational option the parent chooses.

amerigirl

I agree, as long as their cultures don't break the laws or standards then we should respect (not adopt) each other.

AmyP

I'm curious -- why is a guy from New Jersey getting a commentary printed in our local paper as a "Community View"? How is he even aware of our local paper? I don't appreciate being lectured by someone who doesn't even have children in LCPS and doesn't pay taxes in Loudoun County -- but who IS interested in having LCPS buy his books. Perhaps they aren't selling well on the open market.

tolerantleft

the dumbing down of deviance

next thing, NAMBLA books for our kids

amerigirl

sick and bias

ChickenChucker

but true.

amerigirl

Chicky, far from true. Some people always present the worse scenario even if it is infeasible.

RoundHillGuy

It must be exhausting carrying water for the far left.

Frannieworks

Students are not being forced or indoctrinated. The books at issue are made available to students to read; they are not part of the curriculum. The writer is correct when he said that these books can sometimes be a life line; that that is not a metaphor. It is critical for people to feel like they matter. Dismissing the LGBTQ community in schools by raising alarms about books that appeal to them or that they can see themselves in just leads to that community feeling even more isolated and not worthy of existing.

md5

You have been lied to, as has every parent and student in Loudoun county. On the very first day the Diverse Classroom Library books were delivered, my son's English teacher delivered a stack of books to every table and said they needed to "evaluate" three of each stack to see if they would like to do a report on them. The teacher is literally taking a pile of books and putting them in from of the children and saying "take a look"....books that in no uncertain terms graphically describe sexual encounters. Go watch the excerpts from the board meetings where parents read content out loud and tell me how it is a life line for an English teacher to put this graphic content in front of every students' face.

amerigirl

That teacher should have been reported.

BobOhneiserEsq

Here are some added issues the posters might consider.

Schools are community centers not LCPS private playgrounds.

Public libraries in Loudoun are accessible by students so any difference in what is available for viewing in libraries is fictional control at best.

LCPS teachers current performance evaluations do not include parental input even though it is precisely teacher assignments that puts student focus on certain books.

Why aren't high school libraries open to the public for use when school is not is session?

Why haven't school board members required teacher performance evaluations include parental input?

AmyP

There are two main problems with the author's commentary. First, since he's both an author and employed by Scholastic, he has a vested interest in making sure that LCPS buys his books and fills lots of shelves with them. And the other is his closing paragraph: "Love is the reason these books have been written. Love is the reason these books are read. And love is the reason these books will be defended, and will continue to be shared." The books most hotly contested right now at the school board meetings are those at the high school level with explicit sexual content. Those books are not about "love," they are about graphic sexual encounters -- one between two men and an under-age-of-consent male, others depicting rape of an underage girl, another describing a six-year old's affinity for oral sex. I could defend my position of wanting these books removed from LCPS classrooms by also stating, "Love is the reason I don't want children -- my children or anyone else's children -- being abusively sexualized." It's bad enough kids are being bombarded with sexual messaging every minute they're outside of school. Can we offer them nothing better than this?

amerigirl

Could you give the titles of those books and what grade they are assigned to? Also how do you know he works for Scholastic?

Loudoun1965

He works for Scholastic because it says so right at the bottom of the article...he's the publisher and editorial director.

amerigirl

Loudoun1965 , I missed that, thanks. Still curious about the books, do you know any of the titles?

AmyP

His bio is printed right below his commentary: David Levithan is the author of “Boy Meets Boy,” “Two Boys Kissing,” “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” (with Rachel Cohn), along with other titles. He is the publisher and editorial director at Scholastic.

ChickenChucker

Doesn't matter, doesn't belong in any public school, K-12. If a parent wants their child

reading this kind of material they can buy it themselves and keep at home.

amerigirl

What are the titles of the books that you were saying had graphic sexual encounters, rape, a six-year old's affinity for oral sex? Really curious about those being in schools.

AmyP

"Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out" by S. Kuklin, "Cub" by P. Coccia, and "Rani Patel In Full Effect" by S. Patel are the books that contain the content I was mentioning. They are part of the Diverse collections for high school.

amerigirl

AmyP, thanks![smile]

ChickenChucker

THANK YOU

JCB040508

Public schools do not have the right to indoctrinate our children. That's what this is about. This is utter foolishness

amerigirl

The foolishness is thinking that they are indoctrinating children.

RoundHillGuy

Except , that is exactly what they are doing. You can repeat the lie as many times as you wish until you believe it, but it is indoctrination.

amerigirl

RoundHillGuy you have your opinion, I respect that. But I don't believe that anyone is indoctrinating children.

ProvHerb

“Bring up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.” This assumes that there are certain ways that they should not go.

amerigirl

and that all children are the same.

MitchT

Premise of article: "No parent has the right to dictate the education of all children based on their own personal beliefs."

If that is true, then why do some parents get to force their beliefs that boys can be girls, and that Christian beliefs are false and hateful, on all children?

And why am I forced to pay for the education of all children against my beliefs, and to oppose my beliefs? And for an education system my children can't use?

And before you say "you can use private schools, or homeschool," don't tell me I have to pay TWICE ... once for your kid, and then for mine. And why can't the LGBT kids go to private schools, or homeschool?

There is a very, very simple answer to this. It's so simple that avoidance of the answer shows the real issue. The answer is, give the parents the money, and let them educate as they wish. The real issue is, we can't do that because the real goal is not education, but indoctrination. Oh, and keeping the teachers union going.

ChickenChucker

MitchT, sane and logical comment, are you sure you are from around here You should run for the School Board. In find it odd that you never see a preacher stick up for Christ and the family in the comments section, nor Rabbis stick up for the Bible. UH' OH here comes am girl.

MitchT

Thank you, ChickenChucker. I'm from Western Loudoun, so maybe the sanity hasn't totally run out. I would just be very frustrated on the School Board, and couldn't get elected I'm sure because we homeschool. And there is no way to change the public schools, they are so far gone in terms of discriminating against conservative, Christian, or traditional values or even a good education. The only hope is competition, which is why they fight that to the death. Of course, this is all the parents' fault, as they just keep sending their kids there, and demand no accountability. If there was true school choice we'd have better educational outcomes and accountability.

ThatPerson

Wow

Virginia SGP

This author must not have heard the discussion. The main objection wasn't to these fairy tale books. It was to sexually explicit books including ones about illegal relationships that groom kids (often LGB kids) to be preyed upon by adults. The very kids he wants to protect are served up as conquests by normalizing these relationships.

And OF COURSE there is viewpoint discrimination. That what schools do. Kids cannot scream profanities in classrooms or even in hallways. That is protected on a public sidewalk. Is he suggesting that books which glorify LSD use (they exist) or remove the "taboo" of adult/child sex be pushed on kids? I certainly hope not. Well then David, you are GUILTY of supporting viewpoint discrimination. Congrats and welcome to the club.

One last thing. Parents have a constitutional right to direct the upbringing of their children. Not possible input with the teacher or librarian. An absolute right. They can put their kids in private school if they wish. While you may want to override that right, you cannot. As a society, we also determine what other kids get to see. A parent can always give their books on LSD, adult-child rape, fairy tales, ethical lessons, and anything in between. But we, as a society, get to decide what books are appropriate in schools. It is a political choice. That is what this debate is about. The fact that David and others might want an "anything goes" approach to books does not mean he gets to override the community's judgment about what kids see. You know, kids with little home guidance or role models. They need protection just as much as any other kid. How much they should be exposed tot he world or protected from bad influences is a communal choice. Neither I nor David gets to make that choice in a vacuum. But to suggest that he knows best and the community at large should be ignored is ridiculous.

BelindaB

Brian- if you read the board docs you would have seen that the two books he mentioned have had formal complaints from several schools.

amerigirl

That isn't the main complaint from the genophobic people posting here. From what I have seen and heard the biggest objection to the books has been on alternative lifestyles.

Lynn Davis

[thumbdown] Your second sentence shows your ignorance!

amerigirl

Please tell me the titles of those books. I have asked others but not gotten a response and I would like to see how the context is reported.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.