RAPID CITY, SD — Earlier this month, five books were placed on Rapid City-area schools’ list of surplus property to be destroyed.
In a statement, the district said it was because the books contained “explicit and inappropriate sexual content.” Those who oppose it say it is a group of people trying to legislate morality.
Students, teachers and parents have since spoken out, saying the books weren’t mandatory and their removal was a blatant attempt to limit diversity.
“As a senior myself, I felt really, fair, disrespected being told what I can and can’t read because maybe it’s too mature for my age,” Colton Porter said. , senior at Central High School. “I just got angry, just upset, because it became clear that the people who were advocating the destruction of these books didn’t understand what these books were being read for.”
Porter says he could see where “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” might be questionable — based on district politics — but doesn’t understand why the other four are objectionable.
Many gathered outside Mitzi’s Books in the Shops at Main Street Square on Monday evening for a community conversation. The event was standing room only. Several students spoke of the impact these books had on them, making them feel less alone and learn more about themselves at this pivotal time in human experience.
“Just in general, books tell us about the world; just teach us about different aspects of the world, about different people, about different things people go through,” says Nancy Swanson, chair of the South Dakota Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. “It’s so revealing.”
Others said that as young adults, about to be released into the world, it was important that they were as prepared as possible for the challenges ahead.
Some asked why people tried to legislate discomfort.
“Honestly, anyone can probably walk into a library and find something that offends them,” says Shari Theroux, president of the South Dakota Library Association. “But, you know, you have the freedom not to read it, and everyone has the freedom to read whatever they want to read.”
One of the authors whose book is withdrawn says there is nothing more un-American than the destruction of literature.
“This is a country built on freedom of thought and intellectual freedom for all,” says author Dave Eggers, whose book, “The Circle,” is on the to-destroy list. “As we stand 25 minutes from Mount Rushmore, these four stone-hewn heads would weep knowing that books were not only being pulled from shelves – depriving young adults – but destroyed.”
The school district says they are still investigating, but Porter says the books are missing from the library.
Journalist: “Do you think you would feel differently if they were banned or destroyed?”
“For me, there is no difference. Because anyway, no matter the outcome, I can’t read them,” Porter says.
Porter and many others – including Shari Theroux and Nancy Swanson – agree that the decision to read or not to read a title should be a family affair. Porter says a group of people shouldn’t come to the board to “unilaterally ban” titles just because they themselves don’t agree.
Proving that the action taken to remove these titles could have the opposite effect.
“When you challenge books, it’s usually going to get into the news and that sort of thing,” Swanson says. “Really what it does is bring more attention to these conversations that we probably should be having anyway.”
Eggers also read letters from other authors whose books are withdrawn. One wrote, “Which society has profited from the burning of books? As a student of history, I can tell you that there is none.
Eggers himself saying, “You don’t want to be in the company of book burners.”
Rapid City-area schools community relations officer Caitlin Pierson said in a statement that district attorneys are “investigating the contents of these books” to see if they could be sold or destroyed.
The item does not appear for discussion on the agenda for Tuesday evening’s school board meeting.