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Ellen S. Wilkowe is a former journalist, freelance writer, and mom of a Denville middle-schooler. This first appeared in nj.com.
In order for my eighth-grade daughter to retrieve her schedule, I had to complete and digitally sign several online forms that ranged from the expected such as health information, student codes of conduct and social media releases.
But the one link that gave me the greatest cause to pause was the letter from the assistant superintendent explaining the policy — yes, policy — involved in granting middle school students permission to take out young adult novels.
Given the Parental Rights in Education movement, the letter and form did not surprise me as much as it did relieve me, which in and of itself actually did surprise me.
At least, we, the parents, still had the right to opt our child in to read young adult novels. For now.
This pales in comparison to states like Florida and Texas where it takes just one parent to deny all parents their rights to have their children read certain books. This, in turn, denies children their rights, to access books that may appeal to them. So, in the digital age where a child has their nose in a phone, I would much rather them have their nose in a book, as opposed to having their nose in a phone searching for a forbidden book that AI is writing faster than I am crafting this column.
Yet, here we are, cautiously navigating AI and other burgeoning 21st-century tech, all while attempting to turn back the hands of time and use antiquated techniques such as censoring, banning and, worst of all, hating, in order to meet certain political agendas.
So, while AI continues to write forbidden novels for our children, we should be celebrating the old-fashioned medium of books and entrust, as we always have, our school librarians, to provide age-appropriate material.
Having grown up in the dark ages of the 80s, I sought solace in the library, right down to the stereotypical yet comforting shushes from the librarians who were trying to preserve the solitude that we have come to expect in the sanctuary of reading and research.
I have zero recollection of book restrictions or my parents, of having them sign any opt-in forms that would have allowed me unrestricted access to Judy Blume novels.
Even if that were the case, we would find forbidden material right on our parents’ nightstands, or on our friends’ parents’ nightstands, much like children today will consult the Internet on books forbidden in their districts in the name of parents’ rights.
Well, this parent is extremely grateful that her child’s district still offers choices, for both parents and kids, and the quote for the assistant superintendent reinforces that:
“As a parent/guardian, you are best able to judge the maturity of your reader; therefore, by signing the electronic permission form, you are agreeing to allow your child to check out any books from the Library, including those labeled “Young Adult”
While cautiously optimistic about our district’s approach to free-range reading, this parent still fears that the Parental Rights in Education Movement, courtesy of Moms for Liberty, will eventually take away my rights to have my child access books that might not meet their political agenda. I also fear that this Parental Rights in Education Movement will result in the continual harassment of the individuals whom I have come to view —and still do — as the most comforting grownups on Earth, the librarians.
But for now, I will embrace the policy that my district has taken and allow my daughter access to young adult books that were approved for her grade and celebrate the presence of a novel on her bed.
I’d much rather her sleep with a book than a phone filled with social media vitriol targeting innocent librarians and parents who parent with an open mind and open heart — and open books.
I hope the odds, like libraries, are stacked in our favor.