In honor of Banned Books Week, I have decided to dedicate this entire week to celebrating banned and challenged books.
This morning as I was trying to decide which topic or book to cover in celebration of challenged and banned books, I ran across an article that completely shocked me. Just in time for this week’s celebration, a parent in Tennessee has challenged one of the best books I’ve ever read: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
First let me tell you that I don’t like non-fiction in general. With that said, I will now tell you that Henrietta Lacks is not only non-fiction, but is also one of the most memorable books in my overflowing library of books I’ve read. Knowing this about me should tell you that it must be a really wonderful book to be on my list of best books ever.
According to an article on the Banned Books Week Website, Jackie Sims — whose son attends Knoxville’s L&N STEM Academy — believes Rebecca Skloot’s true story about a woman with cervical cancer to be “pornographic.” I had to laugh out loud as Skloot’s response on Facebook.
Rebecca Skloot said in her response:
“… a parent in Tennessee has confused gynecology with pornography…”
Touché, Ms. Skloot! You are my hero!
Ms. Skloot goes on to say:
“…my book is many things: It’s a story of race and medicine, bioethics, science illiteracy, the importance of education and equality and science and so much more. But it is not anything resembling pornography.”
The Banned Books website quotes local TV Station WBIR as follows: “Her son has been provided with an alternate text, per district policy, but Sims said she wants the text out of the hands of all Knox County Schools students.”
AND THERE, MY FRIENDS, IS THE PROBLEM:
One parent deciding for an entire school district whether assigned reading material is appropriate for not only her own child, but every child within the district.
For those who are unaware, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Education and Math. Generally speaking, a STEM Academy School, in most cases, would be a “choice” school for students with higher academic abilities — a school where kids are challenged to think beyond the textbook for greater success in the real world. Reading is a critical piece of thinking beyond the textbook, and advanced level classes (sometimes called Honors or even AP) are intended to make students think for themselves. The whole point is that these students are already high-level thinkers and need literature that forces them to make decisions about the world around them. To remove this book — and others like it — from school bookshelves or curriculum is to retard the learning process for these kids.
LET ME REITERATE WHAT I SAID YESTERDAY:
It is totally appropriate for a parent to decide that specific reading material is inappropriate for her own child. It is not, however, appropriate for one parent to decide appropriate reading material for all children.
In this regard — while I disagree with her — I commend this parent for knowing what her child is reading and taking action to “protect” his sensibilities. BUT, I draw the line with any individual who feels he or she has the right to decide for an entire reading population what is and is not appropriate reading, and that’s what Ms. Sims is attempting to do.
For those who are unfamiliar with this book, allow me to give you a brief overview: Mrs. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman in the 1950s who suffered from cervical cancer. In the midst of her treatment, several of her cells were collected without her knowledge or permission, and those cells went on to pave the way for tremendous breakthroughs in medical science. Her cells became known as HeLa, and they are an immortal line of cells that are still being used today in the advancement of science as it relates to numerous medical issues.
The science community has made billions of dollars off of Mrs. Lacks’ cells, and yet she never received a dime. In fact, her family still lives in poverty. Rebecca Skloot’s book tells the story of Mrs. Lacks’ life and discusses the rights and wrongs of collecting and using her sells without permission or compensation. It’s a book that makes you think, and isn’t that what we want our kids to do? Isn’t that the goal of education?
For more on this particular story, I have included below a link to the WBIR-TV story on this proposed book banning. I’d love to hear what you think. Do you think that Ms. Sims is right in her quest to keep this book out of the hands of all children in the Knoxville, Tennessee school district? If so, tell me why. I’m not sure you’ll convince me, but I’d love to hear your opinion.
For more information on the Knoxville, TN challenge, follow the link below: