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April 26th, 2023
Grijalva: Protecting our students’ right to read

Originally published by the Tucson Sentinel.

Students are most engaged when their education is relevant & empowering

A small and extreme group are seeking to erase the representation and histories of marginalized groups from our schools’ curriculum. Their opening salvo on the federal level came from congressional Republicans with the House passage of H.R. 5, nicknamed the Politics Over Parents Act.

H.R. 5 is a replication of extreme state level education laws that empowers fringe voices to dictate what children can and can’t learn. It would force schools to take books off shelves because certain members of the community, often those without children, feel personally uncomfortable with certain history or topics.

When we see the lists of books that are identified for banning, such as “Girls that Code” and “The Life of Rosa Parks, “it becomes clear that Republicans motives are disingenuous and regressive.

Southern Arizonans remember well when Arizona Republicans banned Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American studies curriculum. Republicans made our schools a national political battleground to erase the study of Latino history and culture from textbooks.

Unfortunately, nationwide in the past three academic years, legislators in 45 states proposed 283 laws that either sought to ban books, censor curriculum, restrict students’ civil rights, and/or punish teachers for accurately recounting our nation’s history. 32 states have enacted bans on books that disproportionately limit access to titles with LGBTQ+ characters and characters of color.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that drastically limits race education in schools and forces schools to go through subjective review processes on books in libraries. It blocks educators from teaching certain topics including systemic racism and diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

In North Carolina, a high school social studies teacher is no longer allowed to assign reading from certain chapters of Christopher Columbus’ journal because it explains his involvement with slavery.

In Missouri, a teacher is no longer allowed to teach Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” And in Iowa, legislation prevented an 8th-grade history teacher from teaching his students that “slavery was wrong.”

The truth is book bans and curriculum disproportionately target LGBTQ+ and people of color, characters, titles or highlight the experiences and histories of these marginalized individuals and groups. These efforts serve to distort history and will result in an inaccurate education for our children. It’s wrong for extreme politicians and community members to curate our students’ bookshelves, depriving students of the right to access diverse learning materials and preventing their academic development.

Parent voices in education are important and valuable. We know how important it is that curriculum is constructed to be representative of the broad backgrounds of the students and families that attend our schools in Southern Arizona and across the country.

Students must have the ability to choose for themselves what to read and learn. It’s why I fought to include amendments to H.R. 5 to stop book bans and prevent the banning of teaching Latino and tribal history in schools. It’s also why I am introducing the Right to Read Act, a bill that will address the disparities in access to school library resources, increases the federal investments in literacy and protects access to quality reading materials to create a foundation for learning and student success. Schools are the most effective when they offer resources that resonate, engage, and empower students and that align with their first amendment rights.

We can’t shy away from the importance of access to books that are empowering, regardless of the political leaning of the state. We shouldn’t be censoring our children’s education, but instead, letting teachers teach and helping develop our children’s independent thinking.

Students are most engaged when their education is relevant and empowering. The impact of extreme anti-education legislation and the erasure of communities’ stories and histories is not a strengthening of consensus, it is a weakening of the competitiveness of our education system. We must acknowledge that our country is one with a diversity of rich cultures and histories. Our schools, their curriculums, and the books in school libraries should provide access to resources that speak to this.

If we cannot teach or read the true history of our nation, our education becomes fiction. Ignorance is not bliss.

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