Poet Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” was banned from a Miami-Dade elementary school, despite the parent objecting to the poem admitting to not reading the whole thing, according to a May 28 article from USA Today.
Book bans have become prominent in the state within the past year, but the recent news of Gorman’s poem being banned reinforces the fundamental issues that plague these bans whenever they occur.
These bans often disproportionately affect LGBTQ authors and authors of color, and Florida’s school officials need to be more responsible when looking over these complaints and deciding to ban a particular book.
The mother who objected to the poem, Daily Salinas, said she took issue with the poem’s “indirect hate messages,” according to a May 24 article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“I’m not a reader. I’m not a book person. I’m a mom involved in my children’s education,” she said.
When filling out the complaint form, Salinas cited pages 12 and 13 as being the areas where the “‘hate messages’” were, according to a May 25 article from NPR. An excerpt from those pages reads:
“We’ve braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
And the norms and notions of what “just is”
Isn’t always justice.”
The poem, which was read at Joe Biden’s inauguration, includes many similar metaphorical stanzas throughout, as a means of referring to the transition between President Trump and Biden, and the state that America has been left in, and could become in the future.
Gorman stated that she had finished the poem after the Capitol Riot on Jan. 6, so the words could “be a point of unity and collaboration and togetherness,” according to a 2021 interview with BBC World Service Newshour.
This statement comes as a contrast to the “hate messages” that Salinas alleged, showing a misunderstanding on what the point of the poem was.
When asked about the nature of Gorman’s poem being banned, USF literacy studies professor and faculty senate president Jenifer Jasinski Schneider, wasn’t very favorable of the decision.
“In the case of removing Amanda Gorman’s book, a fair and legitimate process wasn’t followed and the book does not contain objectionable material. It shouldn’t have happened and the decision should be reversed,” said Schneider in an interview with The Oracle.
Authors of color, like Gorman, are frequently targeted by these bans. The American Library Association has seen a rising number of challenges against books dealing with race or Black history, according to a 2022 article by Education Week.
From July 1 to Dec. 31, 2022, there were 1,477 instances of books being banned, according to an April 20 report from PEN America. Of the 874 books that have been banned, 30% included characters and discussions of color and race, and 26% had LGBTQ characters or themes.
Banning books without legitimate reason can set a dangerous precedent for censorship in higher education as well. In fact, several universities in Florida have already faced these kinds of issues.
In January, DeSantis railed against AP African American Studies and DEI and CRT programs at Florida’s universities, according to a Feb. 2 article from The Oracle. The College Board would go on to revise the AP course, but denied that Florida’s politics played a part in the decision, according to a Feb. 1 statement from All Access.
Going forward, when parents file book ban complaints, they need stronger reasons for why a book isn’t appropriate for a class. If it contains harmful or inappropriate content, then they need to show a more concrete understanding of the work in question.
There’s some hope for change down the line. President Joe Biden announced on June 8 a new coordinator to look into book bans that the president feels “violates” the civil rights of LGBTQ students, according to a June 8 news conference uploaded to YouTube by CBS News.
The action also comes in the midst of both PEN America and Penguin Random House suing the Escambia County School District for their book removals, claiming that it also “violates” the First and Fourteenth Amendments, according to the May 17 court document.
Hopefully, these actions can lead to a state where book bannings aren’t so commonplace, because continuing down this road would be dangerous for education.