On being … singularly powerful

By Ingrid Sapona

The “inspiration” for today’s column was a recent news story about a school in Miami Lakes, Florida, that has restricted access to Amanda Gorman’s poem: The Hill We Climb. For those who don’t remember, Gorman wrote it for – and recited it at – Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2020. You can read the poem here.  

The story caught my attention because I hadn’t really thought about the poem since the inauguration. I remembered being so impressed by the (then) 22-year-old Ms. Gorman when she read it. Another reason the news caught my attention was because it seemed another example of the book banning frenzy sweeping through the U.S. When I dug a bit deeper, however, I was relieved to learn that the Miami-Dade Public school district, the fourth-largest district in the U.S. by enrollment, hasn’t banned the poem. 

Instead, the Bob Graham Education Center – a K–8 school with about 1450 students – decided to re-shelved the poem to the middle school section of the school library. The school’s reason for doing so was it believes the poem is “better suited for middle school students”. Ok, so that’s not so bad, right? 

But there was one other element of the story that was particularly surprising. The school decided to make this change after one parent complained about the poem. The parent, who has two children at the school, complained in March about the poem and four other titles. According to the New York Times,  in the complaint the parent claimed the function of Gorman’s poem is to “cause confusion and indoctrinate students”.

Though the notion of “confusion and indoctrination” is pretty vague on its own, the rest of the books she objected to offer some insight into where she’s coming from: “The ABCs of Black History, “Cuba Kids”, “Love to Langston,” and “Countries in the News: Cuba”. The reasons she gave for opposing these works included “indoctrination” and “critical race theory”. (For information on how the school dealt with these other titles, have a look at the New York Times article.)  

In thinking about this, I couldn’t help wonder if that parent thought her complaint would be enough to cause the school to make changes. Maybe she did – maybe she didn’t. Maybe she was just angry and decided to vent. Either way, the end result is a vivid example of the old adage about the squeaky wheel. Of course, the fact that the school made changes after getting just one complaint has as much to do with the current move to censorship that’s being fueled by extremist political rhetoric as it does with appeasing just one parent. But still…   

I get so angry when I hear stories about things like book banning, don’t say gay laws, restrictions on women’s right to choose, candidates promising to pardon criminal sentences they don’t agree with, and so on. I don’t understand how such causes – which I truly believe are not held by the majority of Americans – are reshaping the U.S. But maybe the explanation lies in this story about one Florida mom’s letter of complaint. 

Maybe what we should take from this story is that when we disagree with the way things are going, we need to speak up – to have our voices heard, however uncomfortable we are with doing so. From now on, I say write that letter, tell others what you think. The worst that can happen isn’t that you’re ignored, it’s that you let the minority view win the day because you were silent. 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona


Post a Comment

<< Home