Rosie DiManno’s husband, also named Rosie, worked in education for 30 years. Here she recalls the worst part of it all: six books banned from school libraries
Hilary Weston wrote a book called Robin Riots in 2011 – and it was banned from schools. The novel followed a rape-revenge story set in Toronto. Not long after it was published, the Toronto school board banned it from school libraries.
I was in shock. A television crew told me they were from Fox News. There were two reporters and a producer at my house. I looked at the story and was stunned. Then I felt bad, feeling ashamed of my husband’s book, and angry that a book should be banned for any reason at all. Even if the author, Hilary Weston, was guilty of condoning rape, which she certainly wasn’t. She pleaded guilty to assaulting a man she knew years earlier, and was sentenced to time served.
When I first heard about the Canadian government penalising a book, I thought: “Oh, Lord, not another book ban!” That was just the absurd thing about it – once they decided what book they were banning, the book instantly became the most dangerous book ever published. And not only a dangerous book, but one that was intended to liberate readers.
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Rosie DiManno responded to a list of 262 books from the Toronto school board to be removed from libraries. Toronto mayor John Tory responded in similar terms: “We are not going to allow people to intimidate the education system.” Tory rightly called on school boards to abandon the decision.
The only other thing I could think about was, how is it possible a book that was so clear about its message could be so misunderstood?
Clearly there’s a problem with administrators at Toronto public schools. A few posters, put up last year by group of local teachers, were removed for violating the no-bookshaming policy. But the assertion of the policy itself remains. Of course it’s bad that books need to be censored – as a human being you want to read as many books as possible. I think every administrator needs to read books that upset them first – just to understand why they do, so they can go about designing their own libraries.
I have witnessed school administrators remove books from libraries many times in my 30 years of teaching and 30 years of working with children. But every time I’ve seen it, it has been by “easier-to-maintain pre-existing library policy”. It’s only after a fight, or a lawsuit or a Google search, or someone on the internet ranting at me for six hours that you finally see that something has been wrong.
Schools with vast or corrupt bureaucracy, such as Toronto, want to control school library resources. But what they don’t like is the freedom of readers, the freedom to disagree, and the freedom to choose a book that offends.
Because if schools can do that to writers, then books that are clearly offensive are the next victims. So, when you have school districts that are trying to find ways to keep school libraries from becoming popularly-liked resources with reading lists, make sure you look closely at who is blocking books and consider the impact on your own and your students’ freedom.
Schools across Canada banned dozens of books this year. We shouldn’t become hostages to ideology.
As an educator, I want to teach what is right, what is wrong. I want to raise ethical humans, who can make their own choices. That means books. It means a library library.
• Rosie DiManno is a music teacher at Austins Royalton school in Vancouver, Canada.