You may remember the name Amanda Gorman from her incredible, moving poem “The Hill We Climb” that she delivered at the 2021 presidential inauguration.
Since that time, you may remember her from reciting a poem before the 2021 Super Bowl, cohosting the Met Gala in 2021, or being on the covers of Vogue, Glamour, and Time.
If you have a toddler, you may remember her from Sesame Street and the episode where she and Grover talk about being an upstander.
Now, the name Amanda Gorman is unfortunately tied to the latest book ban.
Yesterday, Gorman posted on her Instagram that the book version of her poem The Hill We Climb was banned from an elementary school in Miami-Dade County, Florida.
“I’m gutted,” she shared. “I wrote The Hill We Climb so that all young people could see themselves in a historical moment. Ever since, I’ve received countless letters and videos from children inspired by The Hill We Climb to write their own poems. Robbing children of the chance to find their voices in literature is a violation of their right to free thought and free speech.” Read her full comments here.
She also posted the complaint form, which speaks volumes. Read it carefully.
I know what the person filling out this form thought they were saying. But here’s what this form and the subsequent banning really say.
It reiterates the critical need for literacy instruction
I won’t talk about the errors in punctuation and grammar because those are honestly the weakest points in this case. But the incomplete form reveals one of two things. Either the complainant didn’t read the book or doesn’t have age-appropriate rhetorical skills to engage thoughtfully with written material. Both of these are troubling for a district to accept at face value when deciding to ban a book.
It shows at best a concerning level of reading comprehension, at worst an acceptance of casual racism
Though I’m no longer in the classroom, I’m still programmed to look at an incorrect answer and ask myself, “How did they arrive at that?”
So when I saw that the complainant listed Oprah Winfrey as the author, I stopped. I decided to look up the book cover to see how she arrived at that response.
As a teacher, I would be asking myself, “Does the complainant need me to go back and reteach what a foreword means, or why it’s casually racist to confuse two different, highly visible black women?”
Or maybe I would just decide the complainant needs more exposure to books.
It highlights the refusal to engage with different ideas
To me, one of the most representative statements on this form is this:
I don’t need it.
I don’t need to listen to points from the other side.
I am so deeply threatened by the possibility that I could be wrong that I refuse to engage with it.
It raises questions about what constitutes “indoctrination”
The complainant lists that they believe the purpose of the material is to “cause confusion.” (This is interesting to me because I would have said the same thing about the purpose of Infinite Jest in college, but I digress.)
The complainant lists that the other purpose of the material is to “indoctrinate students.” After rereading Gorman’s poem, I did find a few things that Gorman encourages the reader to accept:
- The inherent value of all people
- The importance of resilience
- The idea that we are better together
- The encouragement to persevere past fear, adversity, and other hard times
If that’s indoctrination, I guess we need to be banning any book with a moral message.
My parents don’t believe in hunting. So why didn’t they storm my fourth grade teacher’s classroom when she read us Where the Red Fern Grows?
I can tell you why: Because reading about something you don’t support or that goes against your family’s values isn’t indoctrination. Dictating what other people’s kids should read is.
A glimpse into how few facts (if any) some schools need to ban books
I’m genuinely horrified that a place that alleges to teach children how to read and think critically got this form, reviewed it, and gave credence to it.
I’m just as worried about this school as I am this woman.
Gorman recommends donating to PEN, a group that advocates for “free expression, defend[s] writers and artists at risk around the globe, and f[ights] censorship in the United States and abroad.”
Ask to review the complaint forms for banned books in your district, and raise hell if they’re as bonkers as this one.
Buy her book.
Though Gorman herself didn’t ask for this, I think one of the best things we can do for banned authors is create a wave of new readership. Buy several and place copies in the Little Libraries around your city for good measure.
Especially if you live in Miami-Dade County.