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"You can't read that..."


In May of 2023, Governor Kim Reynolds signed the bill SF 496. If you are unaware of the law, it restricts certain books that contain some types of sexual content from schools’ classes and libraries. The bill has changed the dynamic of reading and teaching in schools; many teachers have had to strip their curriculum due to the bill. The bill has created changes and challenges for teachers, librarians, students, parents, and administrators here at North Scott. I talked with each group over the course of the week to understand the impact of the bill.


Teachers

Mrs. Sambdman has graciously offered to explain her side of implementing the new law into her classes as a high school and College teacher. 


I wanted to know how the new law affected Mrs. Sambdman and what impact it had on her curriculum. Knowing that she teaches English courses, I knew she would be able to give us some good insight: “I had to make the choice to shelve some titles that we teach in the college literature course. I am also hyper-sensitive about the titles I choose in that course because I want to make sure I don't break the law and bring any heat to the district.”


After explaining the effect it had on her I was curious if she had to make any drastic changes to her curriculum and/or how many books she felt necessary to pull . . . how many adjustments did you have to make? She mentioned that the whole textbook for her college literature class was removed and later explained how some of her favorite books to teach were booted: “I had to pull our textbook from the students last semester because a single poem that I have never assigned happened to have a line that went against the law. I didn't know this at the time of giving them the anthology because, again, I never assigned the poem in question. Since then, I have had to purchase new texts that don't actually align with the courses at Scott Community College and replace novels we have taught with books that would be approved. This has been a challenge since one of the course objectives set forth by the college is talking about the human condition, and while I am not assigning pornography and never have, love, sex, etc. are aspects of the human condition that are present in literature both contemporary and canonical.” 


I continued by asking her how she is moving forward in her classes knowing it is all new and is probably affecting not just her but also her students: “I am being obsessive about what I have the students read to make sure I'm not breaking the law while trying to adhere to the rigor of a college course. I am rereading a lot of titles to make sure something that I didn't catch before because it wasn't important to the story, didn't sneak in and break the law. It is a little frustrating that I can teach books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has the N-word in it 216 times, but not let a kid use any Colleen Hoover books if they wanted to for a school project because it's too sexy.”


As one of her LIT kids, I do wonder if there is anything I'm missing out on since the curriculum was changed right before my class took place this semester, and asked her if she thinks the sudden curriculum change has affected her students. An immediate, “Yes. One of the titles the students look forward to, especially for Lit 101, is The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. This is a controversial title before the bill that has a lot of references in popular culture today and is rife with controversy and difficult topics. I have taught this novel every semester since 2021. Chapter 16 of this novel is a little graphic, and I have always given the kids a trigger warning and told them that they could skip the chapter (a whopping three pages) and just read the last line of the chapter. While the chapter doesn't actually break the specifics of the law and what the district set out as the things to watch out for in titles, I made the decision to pull it in light of the scrutiny literature has been under so as not to invite controversy or contention. It really is unfortunate.” 


The bill is affecting teachers and their classes, and depending on the class they teach, this law might affect their choices in the future. Mrs. Sambdman also gave us insight into how she thinks students are being affected.


Students

Students here at North Scott are also greatly impacted by the bill, especially the students who read frequently. I sent out a form asking students from all classes (Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior) how they felt about the bill, and how it affected them, and offered a consensus on the overall data regarding students here at North Scott. Out of the 124 students that chose to fill out the survey (Thank You!) a vast majority said they read romance novels in their free time.“33% of books sold in mass-market paperback format were romance novels.” In addition, 69.7% of students do not find the sexual content in books to make them uncomfortable and 25% said it's weird, but it does not bother them. The students who said they read romance novels find it frustrating that they now have to buy the books or go out of their way, to the public library frequently, to attain what they choose to read. 


In the short answer response asking students how they felt about the bill and the governmental infiltration on our reading choices, these are a few responses: 


“I think under the First Amendment people should have the freedom to read whatever books they want.”


“Considering the Bible is pornographic by their standards… we probably should leave the book decisions to the readers and their parents. There are SO MANY educational and important books that have a ‘sexual context.’ This is a step backward in our education. Sex/Sexual Concepts are not gross or shameful and the more we hide it from children the less educated they’re going to be about it. We can introduce “sexual context” to older children and young adults without it being completely inappropriate. Introducing the idea into their heads at a young age makes them more knowledgeable in the long run. We’re not saying let them read smut, but stop acting like the word sex is going to corrupt a child’s mind.”


“I think the people in charge right now are inconsiderate and are making laws and focusing on ‘issues’ which are blown out of proportion and unnecessary to talk about. We should be focusing on so many more important problems in the world.”


“I feel like if I didn't want to read something, or it wasn't appropriate to me, I would be able to decide that. It shouldn't be up to lawmakers to decide whether or not something is suitable for me to read, as they do not know what is going on in most teenagers' lives. I feel like exposure to these topics is important and it shouldn't be taken away.”


“I disagree totally with this law. It is taking many quality books from the shelves that have a lot to offer to students, especially diverse voices from marginalized communities.”


“It’s unfair and kinda rude for lawmakers to say that I can’t make decisions for myself, especially about something as small as what book I read. It stops creativity and forces students into reading only ‘acceptable’ books which inhibits culture growth and encourages the stigmatism towards these activities.” 


Parents

I also had an anonymous parent who wanted to say something when they heard this article was being produced: 


“As a parent of a toddler, I have a problem with someone saying what my child can and cannot read. Granted, I am not reading her 50 Shades of Gray before nap time, but my rights are being infringed as a parent when we let others dictate what my child cannot read in school. I have a hard time with the government restricting the rights of individuals and don't feel it is a true reflection of the American values surrounding rights and freedom. If a parent doesn't want their child to read a book, then that parent has the right to prevent their child from getting it from the library or opting for a different text for a class (which teachers do offer when requested), but they shouldn't have the right to restrict my child's access.”


Librarian

In an interview with Mrs. Peters, I asked her questions regarding the process she has undergone due to the new bill. This was an informal interview and most responses are paraphrased. Interviewing Mrs. Peters was for the sole purpose of understanding the process the library has undergone due to the bill. The overall consensus in this interview was that no books have been “removed” yet, due to the federal injunction on the law, which has given Mrs. Peters more time to evaluate the books. In choosing which books to evaluate Mrs. Peters works with admin, looks at common themes, watches the news, and makes her own inferences based on the book summary, and genre. Ordering new books for the library has become a new process in response to the bill entailing deeper research. As for guidelines, Mrs. Peters chooses to work closely with administrators here at North Scott and communicate with librarians from surrounding districts. 


Admin

Mr. Marceau also offered to interview with me regarding the new bill. Throughout my prior interviews, I had wondered where the money comes from to buy new books for both class and the library. Marceau mentioned that the English department and the library have their budgets to purchase books. Throughout my research, it came to my attention that the surrounding districts and their high schools that also offer college courses are still using books the law wouldn't allow and match continue the curriculum at Scott Community College. I asked Marceau not why but how the districts are handling the new bill compared to us: “We are doing our best to provide quality education while following the law.” Marceau says that things are always changing regarding what books we are allowing or evaluating, especially in classrooms. He brings up the idea that it is different when teachers are choosing a class book versus a student walking into the library and choosing one for themselves. He also emphasized numerous times that he trusts his staff, especially in the English department, and applauds them for the work they do. I asked him if the decision-making process was black and white or if there was a lot of gray area for what breaks and/or follows the law. He responded by saying he thought it would be a lot more gray than it is. When the bill was first signed he had a handful of books on his desk from teachers and not once did he disagree with the teacher's opinion on whether to keep it in the curriculum or not. 


The new bill has affected public schools across the board, especially here at North Scott. I think everyone, no matter what your role is here at North Scott most find the bill a little frustrating whether it's because you're limited to reading choices, you think it's morally wrong, your uprooting your whole curriculum, or you're just tired of people complaining about it. I want to emphasize that the goal of this article is to inform students, not to persuade them and once again thank you to the people who responded to my Google Form.  


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Kim Reynolds is the same type to complain about warning screens before old looney tunes cartoons, calling it censorship.

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