THHS hosts Reading Day to protest attempts to remove books from libraries in Texas and Virginia

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Tomorrow, Townsend Harris will hold a school wide read-in to protest against the  removal of books from school libraries. 

All bands will be shortened to 44 minutes and Band 3 will be split up into two sections, A and B. During Band 3B, every student will be allowed to choose a book to participate in this event.  

This rally comes in response to the attempt by many state representatives and governors in states such as Texas and Virginia to ban books on subjects such as racial equity, mental health, and sexuality. Most notably, a large number of books on this list are centered around the LGBTQ+ youth community. Texas State Representative Matt Krause composed a sixteen page guide listing approximately 850 book titles that he believed should be removed from school shelves. 

This sixteen page list includes Teen Legal Rights, Abortion: the Politics of Motherhood, A Question of Choice, Without Annette, and Stamped, the book discussing the racist roots in America that THHS collectively read during the summer of 2020. Children’s picture books such as And Tango Makes Three (based on a true story about two male penguins raising a penguin chick at the zoo) are also frequently challenged.

In discussing the situation in Virginia, school librarian Arlene Laverde said “the school board said that not only should these books be removed, they should be burned.”

“I think that banning books, especially regarding LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter, is the first step to try to silence minorities,” junior Jason Song said. “It’s very dangerous and we need to speak up against it.” 

Freshman Rajvi Bhagat said, “There should be representation for all especially in schools and especially to the LGBTQ [community].” 

Similarly, junior Joshua Arany said, “I think it’s very unconstitutional and takes away our freedom because we should have the right to read whatever we want.” 

And, senior Emily Blickhahn said, “I think that it’s irrational that big corporations and organizations are trying to control what students have access to. That decision should be for the individual themselves.” 

When asked why she thought it was important for school libraries to house all these books, Ms. Laverde said, “[It’s] because of empathy. When I was in school I never really thought about how not seeing people like me was a big deal. [But then] there was a show called ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ and it was about a high school class [with people of] all different ethnicities. And there was one kid, his name was Juan Epsine, he was Puerto Rican and Jewish. And I was like ‘wow there’s someone like me. I thought I was the only Puerto Rican Jew in existence.’ And it set this thing off in my head. It made a big difference.”

She went on to talk about an anonymous padlet that she posted last Wednesday, asking students about a book that made a difference in their lives. “A couple of kids posted already and [their responses] are the reason why we need to have diverse books, books about LGBTQ people, books about other cultures, books about other experiences,” said Ms. Laverde. 

One student shared the book More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera. The student reflected on the book, saying that “reading about a character dealing with depression and coming out as gay was monumental in helping me understand myself. It’s a poignant book about finding happiness in all the dark places.” 

After reading that comment, for the fourth time that day she added,, Ms. Laverde said, “That’s why. This is why we need them.”

When asked about how the books in school libraries have changed throughout the years, Ms. Laverde said, “The reading list hasn’t changed that much. It’s been 40 years since I was in high school, and let’s be real, a lot of stuff has changed over time. And when you think about what is on the high school curriculum, it’s a lot of dead white guys who are the authors. Kids today are more sophisticated and have access to more and they have a right to read stories that are authentic, with authentic stories that give credence to who they are.” 

When asked what else THHS students could do to fight against these injustices, Ms. Laverde said, “Social media works wonders. It really does. We need to let [government officials in Texas, Virginia, etc.] know that what they’re doing is wrong. The representatives, the Senate, all the people need to know that students have first amendment rights and the Supreme Court case Island Trees School District v. Pico proved that the kids have First Amendment rights, the library is protected.”

When asked what she thought about the double reading band, sophomore Brynna Quigley said, “It’s a great thing that our school is teaching and incorporating progressive issues into the school day.” 

However, senior Angelina Kretz said, “I think it’s a good response and it’s good that our school is participating in this and letting us know what’s going on, but I feel like it won’t be enough to bring real change.”  

Ms. Laverde organized the read-in on Wednesday with the sole purpose of getting students to read. “My hope is that you pull out something that you really want to read. I would be willing to bet money that before THHS kids walked into THHS, somewhere in elementary school and middle school you all loved to read,” she said. “[All of you used to] read for pleasure and I want you guys to remember that you read for pleasure… because maybe if you revisit something that you once loved you will remember that  reading used to be fun and it is ok to read.”

Photo Courtesy of Arlene Laverde