Book banning has become a serious topic of debate throughout the United States and Canada over the past few years, with many left-leaning individuals and organizations calling foul against conservatives who do not believe children should be reading sexually explicit material in the classroom. And while this debate will probably not be resolved anytime soon, there is a high school in Ontario, Canada, that has apparently decided to remove all books from its libraries that were published before the year 2008.
High school sophomore Reina Takata, who attends Erindale Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario, recently claimed many books at her school’s library were disappearing, according to a CBC report. The report notes that Takata was a frequent visitor of the school’s library, typically during her lunch hour. Takata said that back in May the shelves were loaded with books, but when she returned this fall, the majority of the books were gone.
“This year, I came into my school library and there are rows and rows of empty shelves with absolutely no books,” Takata said. She went on to suggest that more than half of the library’s books had been phased out.
Takata said students at her school were told back in the spring that the library’s shelves may look a little slimmer “because we have to remove all books [published] prior to 2008.” The library got rid of the books in the name of an apparent equity-based strategy that would make the library more inclusive. However, no justification was offered for why 2008 was chosen as the cutoff date.
Students, parents, and other community members were alarmed by the “seemingly inconsistent approach to a new equity-based book weeding process implemented by Mississauga’s Peel District School Board, which initiated its weeding process last spring in response to a provincial directive from the Ontario Minister of Education,” according to the CBC.
A report was published just two days after Takata spoke out about the issue, claiming that the “weeding process” of the books at the library had been brought to a halt. News outlet CP24 reported that Stephen Lecce, Ontario’s Minister of Education, apparently wrote to the Peel District board and asked that they stop the “weeding process.” Even in the latest report, there is no justification given for why the year 2008 was given as the cutoff date for the removal of these books.
Lecce later went on to say that “Ontario is committed to ensuring that the addition of new books better reflects the rich diversity of our communities,” adding that “it is offensive, illogical and counterintuitive to remove books from years past that educate students on Canada’s history, antisemitism or celebrated literary classics.” Lecce’s statement implies that the Peel District went beyond the intentions of the original directive, or perhaps he is simply backpedaling because of the public reaction. According to the CP24 report, the spokesman for the Peel District denies that it specifically directed librarians at the Erindale Secondary School to remove all books published prior to 2008. No statement from the librarians themselves has been released.
But even though the district’s school board has begun to replenish the library, the fact remains that someone in authority attempted to remove all books from the library that were published before 2008. This is what authentic censorship looks like. Whether by its own initiative or under compulsion by a higher authority, the school did not target specific books based on subject matter; it tried to erase all literature more than 15 years old.
So, what would students be missing out on by not reading anything published before 2008? Consider that any books commonly considered classics were published before 2008. Everything from the Bible to To Kill a Mockingbird would be gone from the library. In their place would be modern novels, which increasingly focus almost exclusively on the skin color, socioeconomic status, or oppression of certain groups of people.
Removing older texts also removes any material showing how far we have come as a culture in our laws and moral beliefs. Plus, we cannot learn from our mistakes if we erase all that is ugly or uncomfortable.
At the end of the day, serious literature provides something more than grievance. It can engulf readers in a world that is wholly original. It can give readers characters they can see themselves in, and perhaps most of all, it shows readers those things that are common to all of us through all of history—love, hardship, hope, and truth.
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