AWP Condemns Efforts to Limit Academic Freedom
January 28, 2022
AWP is disappointed to share that once again a school board has voted to remove a book from student curriculum. This time the work caught in the crosshairs is Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer prizewinning graphic novel Maus. The McMinn County School Board in Tennessee voted unanimously for removal, citing "objectionable language" and "nudity." Spiegelman's book is a depiction of his parents' imprisonment in a concentration camp during the Holocaust and has been a crucial teaching resource. We are horrified by the decision to deprive students of a book that is not only a great work of art but a remembrance of one of the worst tragedies in human history. We urge our members to continue to speak up across the nation, both for the sake of creative writers who preserve history and for the future generations who will read it. Please see the bottom of this page for ways you can help.
Read our previous statement issued on November 15:
Recent alarming events have highlighted the continuing movement to limit what students can be taught and what books they can read in public school. On Monday, November 8, 2021, the members of the Spotsylvania County School Board in Virginia voted 6-0, approving the removal of “sexually explicit” books from school library shelves, with the criteria for this designation to be determined later. Two board members went so far as to suggest that the school burn the removed books, even though the books in question were located on the school’s digital library app.
Book burning—or in this era, deleting—is as old as history. It’s a panic-stricken effort to control what people can read and by extension, what to think. Figurative book burning has also been affecting school curriculum as well as its libraries. Over the summer, eight states passed legislation to ban critical race theory in school, with many states planning to introduce their own similar legislation. In June, AWP endorsed PEN America’s Joint Statement Opposing Legislation Restricting Education in response to the banning of critical race theory in classrooms. We stand by the same sentiment expressed in the statement— that “these regulations constitute an inappropriate attempt to transfer responsibility for the evaluation of a curriculum and subject matter from educators to elected officials.”
Similarly, local statutes that dictate what a library can carry are also denying students the choice to evaluate the subject matter of what they read. We cannot allow elected officials to think for our students and teachers. We invite our members to join us in participating in local government wherever we find ourselves—to voice our opposition to any measure that would limit the freedom to read and the freedom to think.
Ways you can help:
- Visit your local school board’s website and find out when and where meetings are held. You can speak up during the public comment section of the meeting or write a letter to the board.
- Find out who your board of education is at the state level. They often have public hearings where there is time for comment, or you can email or call.
- Identify who your state legislators are and reach out to them with your concerns.
Edited December 15, 2021: AWP has been added as one of many organizations who have endorsed the National Coalition Against Censorship's statement on the attack on books in schools. You can read the full statement on NCAC's website.