Freedom Readers Speak Out About Contested Books, Describe Harm Caused by Banning Texts in Catawba County Schools

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When schools ban books, they are stealing a child’s right to learn.

That was the premise of Michael McLamb’s comments to the Catawba County Schools Board of Education this week.

Earlier this year, a grandparent named Michelle Teague challenged 24 school library books. She made books a campaign issue and was elected to the Catawba County Schools Board of Education.

A group opposed to the book ban, the Catawba Freedom Readers, has undertaken to read the disputed books. The seven, including McLamb, shared what they learned from the books during public comment at the Catawba County Schools Board meeting on Monday.

McLamb, a 32-year-old Catawba County resident, read “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini. The book contains violence, racism and rape. He said the book has been challenged for discussing gay sex between men and male rape, which he says misses the point of the story. The main themes, he said, are the relationship between a father and his son, discrimination, ignorance of victims of sexual abuse and enlightenment.

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The biggest takeaway from McLamb was the concept that there is only one sin and all other sins point back to it. The only sin, according to the main character, is theft.

“In this sense, banning books from libraries and school systems is theft. … (is) theft of a child’s right to read, theft of a child’s right to explore, theft of a child’s right to discover (and) theft of a child’s right to learn,” McLamb said.

Mitchell Gold, 70, has read three books: “Beyond Magenta” by Susan Kuklin, “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews.

Gold is a nationally known gay rights activist and co-owner of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, a Taylorsville-based furniture company.

“Some worry that if a student reads about sexual orientation or different gender identities in a standardized way, their little Sally or Jimmy will become lesbian, gay, bisexual (or) transgender,” Gold said. This fear comes from innocent or willful ignorance, he said.

Gold said the meaning of the lyrics of many Christian conservatives, especially for the LGBTQ+ community and people of color, is that they (Christian conservatives) follow the teachings of Christ to “love your neighbour,” but don’t show not to minority groups the dignity and respect of Christ. would have shown.

“That means they’re using their interpretation of their Bible to justify marginalizing these people,” Gold said. “Vote for legislators who perpetuate racism, poverty and discrimination against minorities. It means their kids know they backed a president who said on national television, where their kids could hear the words, “When you’re a star, they let you.” You can do anything. Grab them by the…” I guess you know what he said. To me, that’s inappropriate for a student to hear. Especially (knowing) that their parents would support that kind of language.

Gold said there was another benefit to having meaningful books available to students. He said studies show that when non-LGBTQ+ white students read these books, they are less likely to bully students who are part of marginalized groups.

Lynn Dorfman, 72, read “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky. Dorfman said she wished she could read it when she was a teenager.

“Reading about (the main character’s) life issues and his peers may have made me more understanding and compassionate towards my wallflower brother,” Dorfman said. “As a gay high school student in the 1960s, he had a hard time. I wish I could have been there for him like Charlie was for his friends and his sister.

Dorfman holds a degree in Child Development and a Masters in Library Science. Before the pandemic, she taught writing at Appalachian State University. She said she encourages her students to read a lot and think critically.

Contested books cover more topics than marginalized groups. Some are coming-of-age stories that address the obstacles of adolescence.

Ginger Sermons, 83, is a retired educator. The sermons read “Looking for Alaska” by John Green. The book is about teenage Miles Halter befriending other misfits. The friends find themselves navigating typical aspects of adolescence, such as underage drinking and sexual encounters. However, their struggles become more complex after a tragic accident.

“This book taps into important conversations about complex topics for students navigating similar situations,” Sermons said. “We can’t pretend that teenagers don’t deal with these issues, and they need books (like this one) that are willing to acknowledge that.”

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