Cracks knuckles, cracks neck side to side, removes earrings.
Buckle up, buttercups. Because this is officially a bookseller/book ban death match (ie: a long, wearying look at the current book ban facing the New Hanover County School Board.)
Our current story begins with the assignment of the book, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. This book was assigned by AP teacher Kelli Kidwell at Ashley High School. Kicking off her complaints about this book, parent Katie Gates emailed the teacher, Ms. Kidwell, on 12/13/2022 with a two page email that opens with her announcing that she has cc’d the entire school board as well as the assistant to the Lt. Governor. You can find the full emails in this article from WHQR, but for our purposes I will only include excerpts (as death by boredom is not my intention with this post). She informs the teacher, “Ms. Kidwell, I request you pursue another topic or book in the meantime til this concern can be addressed.” Imagine if any parent could email in to derail the entire course curriculum any time they felt like it. Her main complaint is then summarized when she writes that Stamped “… vilifies our Founding Fathers and Heroes. America was founded on Biblical principles on equality, justice, righteousness under the laws of nature and nature's God. Even the least Christian forefathers believed that the best and only system to establish a flourishing society and assuring liberty for all was based on morality and the 10 Commandments from the Bible.”
Let’s get into that.
Katie is a constitutional purist, as evidenced by her LinkedIn page where she lists herself as currently employed as a “Class Coach” for “Biblical Citizenship”, a course that teaches “the Biblical foundations our country was founded on and encouraging people in our duty as kingdom and American Citizens.” For someone enraged by what she sees as bias in a classroom discussion book, she expounds her own bias far and wide. Her implied desire is a government that is a Theocracy with the Christian God as “Head of State” and the government built upon the teachings of God (as she says herself, “based on the morality and the 10 Commandments from the Bible”.) Obviously, we don’t even have time to point out the extreme religious bias of this ideology (freedom of religion… for some), I only bring it up to point out that it’s clear that Mrs. Gates wants a “Classic” constitutional and Bible-based government. The problems with this are endless. The constitution is deliberately vague on slavery, and that vagueness was then critical in protecting the institution of slavery for another 20 years, and only abolished after 12 other amendments. The Atlantic has written a great article about these vagaries and the environment it led to in young America.
As Ms. Kidwell pointed out, in a gloriously underrated 4 page email response (we DO NOT pay teachers enough for this), “AP is a choice for parents and students. Parents and students freely choose to enroll in AP courses. Course descriptions are available online for parents and students to inform their choice. Parents do not define which college-level topics are suitable within AP courses; AP course and exam materials are crafted by committees of professors and other expert educators in each field. AP courses and exams are then further validated by the American Council on Education… Most importantly, AP states: “AP students are not expected or asked to subscribe to any one specific set of cultural or political values but are expected to have the maturity to analyze perspectives different from their own and to question the meaning, purpose, or effect of such content within the [work] as a whole.”
The alarmist cry of “Indoctrination” from Mrs. Gates is gently rebuffed as a reminder that the many texts taught in the AP class are meant to foster independent thought in the students, effectively describing the process of being educated in general. It is important to note here that Ms. Kidwell immediately offers an alternate book for Mrs. Gates’ child to read, but that offer was never taken, nor referenced ever again by Mrs. Gates. The intention is clear, it is not her desire to control only what her own child reads, but what all of our children read. As a fellow parent with children in the NHC school system, I’m as offended by that as I should be.
In response to this email, Mrs. Gates again outlines her problems with the book, writing the following:
“My overarching concerns about ‘Stamped’ are:
1) the authors' disrespect and seeming intolerance for any belief system outside their own and it reads with a sarcastic, critical tone, which is ironic because that same intolerance and racism they are commenting on, they are perpetuating against racists or white supremacists of today.
2) they espouse an ideology based in Marxist concepts (social and economic) and Critical Theory ,
3) and from parts I have read show evidence of skewing of history based on sources that offer only subjective viewpoints.”
Breaking that down we have:
1) “the authors' disrespect and seeming intolerance for any belief system outside their own and it reads with a sarcastic, critical tone, which is ironic because that same intolerance and racism they are commenting on, they are perpetuating against racists or white supremacists of today. “
Please pause of a moment to appreciate the hypocrisy of a person seeking to ban a book from an entire school district because she herself holds a differing belief system leveling an accusation of “disrespect and intolerance for any belief system outside their own and it reads with a sarcastic, critical tone, which is ironic because that same intolerance and racism they are commenting on.” Honestly, it’s so funny I have nothing further to say about it. The joke writes itself.
Concerning the second part of that sentence, “that same intolerance and racism they are commenting on, they are perpetuating against racists or white supremacists of today”: Mrs. Gates seems to be very obviously saying that the two black authors (whose “tone” she doesn’t approve of) are guilty of… “perpetuating racism” against racists and white supremacists. I think we can all agree that this is a shockingly indefensible position to take. When your main argument features an outright defense of racists and white supremacists, which she believes the authors are seemingly encouraging a version of reverse racism on, by denouncing their beliefs. It's a stomach-churning statement, and one of the times when the racist roots of this ban shine through the most clearly.
2) “they espouse an ideology based in Marxist concepts (social and economic) and Critical Theory,”
The teacher Kelli Kidwell offered a lovely explanation of this in her email to Mrs. Gates, which was summarily ignored, so I will reprint it here:
3) “and from parts I have read show evidence of skewing of history based on sources that offer only subjective viewpoints.”
Since I am busy laughing at the hypocrisy (again), I will turn it over to Ibram X. Kendi, author of the Stamped. He spoke to Reader's Digest about this repetitive criticism he often receives for this work:
Critics like to claim that the reason they object to Kendi’s books is that “certain stories and history are left out,” a charge that he finds laughable. “As a historian, that’s a curious justification because you can’t pick up any history book and find that there were no stories that were left out,” he says. “There’s no history book that covers the entirety of human existence for all time.” Challenges also allege that Kendi’s work is “slanted” toward a particular view of race relations. “It’s so striking that when a book challenges notions of Black inferiority, it’s considered indoctrination,” he says. “But then when a book says nothing about Black people or reinforces notions of Black inferiority, it’s considered education.”
As Ms. Kidwell had already pointed out, isn’t the point of this advanced form of learning (as AP classes purport to be), to be exposed to all these varying subjective viewpoints in order to form your own? If Mrs. Gates wanted the entirety of the AP curriculum to be based on her subjective viewpoints of history, perhaps she should look into homeschooling.
“I think one of the beauties of the United States is that there are so many different people who have so many different experiences of so many different identities and have so many different worldviews… and the beauty about literature is when it can provide a range of diversity, of worldviews, of experiences, of identities, so that readers can find themselves in books.” -Ibram X. Kendi
To date (7/22/2023), Papercut, through the generous donations of our customers, has donated 100 copies of Stamped to be handed out for free to area high school students as well as distributed among community little free libraries. We could not be more proud of our book-loving community.
WHQR Reporting with Corresponding Emails: https://www.whqr.org/local/2023-01-31/stamped-out-the-battle-to-remove-an-ap-english-book-from-a-new-hanover-county-school
The Atlantic "How the Constitution Was Indeed Pro-Slavery" https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/how-the-constitution-was-indeed-pro-slavery/406288/
Readers Digest's "Ibram X. Kendi on His Book and Why Kids Today Need the Kinds of Books Being Banned" https://www.rd.com/article/ibram-x-kendi-book-banning/
Katie Gates Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katie-gates-b05a451b
Blog Post Featured Image: Photo Credit Bill Kalina, The York Dispatch