Day 1 – An Unexpected Letter
Monday, October 27, signaled the start of the second arc of the year: Book! Spirits were high; we came into the day after a fantastic Photograph Arc gallery night and opened circle with a game of Story in the Round (where everyone in the circle says one word of a sentence to make a story). There were some hiccups in the storytelling – quiet voices, missed grammatical construction – but nothing compared to Ellen bringing Gever a very important piece of paper that had just been faxed in. The game stopped and Gever apologized for the interruption, but sent everyone outside to the curb while the staff dealt with some hazardous materials inside the school – something to do with the faxed message.
“Gever, is it zombies?” someone asked.
Frances wrote in her blog, “Some people said maybe there was something with the saws. Others said maybe you need a license to have a darkroom, and still others said maybe Quinn brought back ebola from Africa. Obviously they were joking.”
Everyone was confused and a little worried, but were assured nothing was wrong and all headed out on a quick walk.
When the kids returned, they were released back inside band by band. The front door sign changed. There was red danger tape everywhere and signs that said, “Under Investigation”, “Banned”, “Caution – Unapproved Materials”.
Just past the front desk, the kids were met with a bag search and Ellen, Justine, and Anthony wearing black, confiscating all books and internet-capable devices from their backpacks. Visible behind them were ten strangers, also dressed in black, who talked amongst themselves, but were clearly observing the bag search process.
Amelia from the Blue Band highlighted the concern that the students felt upon hearing that the school needed to be cleared due to hazardous materials being discovered in the school. She wrote in her blog, “What could these materials be? My friends and I speculated. Could it be the saws? The other tools? Rumors spread. There were whispers that a Hazmat team were coming to take away our saws in big trucks. When we got back to school, our questions were answered and new ones bubbled up. What were these materials then? Books. This made me feel really confused. Books?”
The kids assembled on the cork floor in rows, instead of in a circle, behind signs that had each collaborator’s last name – ie, Ms. Price’s Class. Weird – we call staff members by their first names, and call our groups of students “bands”, not classes.
In the moment, it seemed that every student experienced something they had never experienced before. Jack, from the Blue band, drew immediate analogies to other authoritarian structures and wrote in his blog, “We were allowed in one band at a time and told to surrender [all books and internet accessing devices]. After doing so we were told to go sit by band in a line out on the cork floor JUST LIKE PRISONERS!!!!”
When the contraband search had finished, Gever read the letter from the Department of Education that, amongst all the legal jargon, effectively banned books for a 90 day period, while the state reassessed the approved reading list for all students.
BOOK BAN LETTER (partial)
Rules of the Interim Compliance Period are as follows:
- Students and staff are not allowed to ask questions about The Ban
- Students and staff will not have access to on or- off-site libraries
- Students and staff will have access to the Approved Reading Materials
- Students and staff will have all reading materials approved before reading commences
- Students and staff will not share ideas about or from books that are not on the Approved Reading Materials
- Students and staff will not read unapproved words (in any context)
- Students and staff will not circumvent the Approved Reading Materials by electronic means; therefore all students and staff must surrender any and all cell phones and devices that connect to the internet upon arrival at a school
To comply with these Federal laws, as well as the mandates of the Supreme Court, and State and local agencies responsible for the enactment of the Society Protection Act of 2014, administrations and teaching staff at all primary and secondary education facilities, both public and private, must ensure that they prevent access to the books not included in the Approved Reading Materials list, and that they do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin in providing free and unfettered access to Approved Reading Materials (as described in the attached Approved Reading Materials, Interim List).
General information, updates to the Approved Reading Materials Interim List, and changes to the rules and compliance expectations (see the attached Good Citizenship Conduct Guidelines, Classroom Excerpt) will be sent via the same method you received this (e.g. email or fax). Ignorance of the updates and/or changes is a violation of the Society Protection Act of 2014.
We look forward to working with you. Thank you for your attention to this matter and for taking the necessary steps to ensure that no child is denied a proper education.
Also included was the interim reading list, a series of pamphlets that celebrated America’s history and traditions, and later during the day supplemented with more materials about proper self improvement:
INTERIM READING LIST
List of Approved Reading Materials
Presidents of the United States, Pamphlet, Copyright 1971, John Hancock Mutual
The Story of the Pilgrims, Pamphlet, Copyright 1956, John Hancock Mutual
The Flag of the United States, Pamphlet, Copyright 1969, John Hancock Mutual
The Declaration of Independence, Pamphlet, Copyright 1956, John Hancock Mutual
The Fifty United States of America, Pamphlet, Copyright Unverified, Publisher Unverified
The kids were in shock. There was silence and wide eyes. When Gever brought out the Compliance Officers– educators from a school in Spokane– whatever doubts the kids had that this was an actual ban were dashed. When the kids returned to their bandspaces after the announcement, the Compliance Officers were charged with removing books, laptops, and phones from the space, and placing Danger tape over any shelves with books or unapproved reading material.
From the student’s point of view, this start of an arc was developing into a truly bad day. Perhaps the worst in the history of Brightworks.
Kaia, in the Green band, wrote in her blog, “We could not ask questions. I had a million buzzing in my head, so I JUST HAD TO ASK! We were also not allowed to talk about books. There were government agents watching us, so we had to talk in huddled groups whispering to each other. Everyone was miserable.” Julian, another Green band student, hearing dry legal language, perhaps for the first time, had a similar reaction and wrote, “Once Gever explained what was happening and read the whole stupid law thing, I was beyond mad, I was going insane because of this. I thought it was crazy but it was really happening…” Oscar pointed out, “You can’t take our books it’s unfair and I love reading. It was terrible timing because this was the day that Amanda told us to bring our favorite books and then they got confiscated!!!”
The students and their collaborators tried to have a school day that was somewhat normal – even though nothing about it was. As the adults moved through the space, we were faced with confusion and anger. We heard kids responding to the ban in whispers and in secret:
“Taking books away is like taking away people’s shoes.”
“What’s the point? What don’t they just ban the ones that are inappropriate for kids?”
“I know that you staff aren’t allowed to talk about the ban, but if you could, would you be with us or against us?”
“Did people get a vote? My dad didn’t hear about this. Who voted?”
“This is against our rights! I mean, I know we are minors and don’t have rights. Except for the Miranda Rights. But it still seems against our rights.”
“Do they have a warrant? They should have a warrant.”
“I know I don’t read that much, but not having books around makes me want to read more.”
“I’m going to wait a few days, then leave and find a school that allows books.”
“They can’t make me call you Mrs. Hathaway. I will ONLY call you ELLEN.”
The Red Band had a conversation about the ban during the morning, which Shawna transcribed:
Alex: I’m super scared. I might get bored without books.
Sadie: Books are the best thing.
Shawna: Nolan, how are you feeling about this?
Nolan: I am super sad that I have to do it.
Shawna: Do what?
Nolan: The books, that I have to give it to them.
Tesla: This is scary. How can we do Book Arc without books?
Sakira: No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed (a beloved book). No more making books!
Sadie: School is ruined!
Tesla: He said we’re going to stop Book Arc. So which arc are we going into?
Sadie: The Boring Arc.
When the update from the “Department of Education” arrived after lunch, with additions to the approved reading list, there was no celebration. There was however, one item on the list that would prove to be pivotal in the day.
Update, October 27, 2014
The Horace Mann New Primer, Copyright 1922
History Stories for Primary Grades, Copyright 1919
How We Elect Our President, Copyright 1968
America’s Holidays, Copyright 1946
Landmarks of American Library, Copyright 1950
The Hero Project, Copyright 2006
Now is Your Time to Win, Copyright 1973
Bill of Rights, Public Domain
Mackenzie, collaborator with the Orange band, wrote: “In the afternoon the nervous and hopeless energy [from the morning] had completely transformed. We gathered together to read the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights (two of the approved books). They hung on every word of the Bill of Rights as if their lives depended on it.”
Her nine year old students decoded the First and Fourth Amendments in the Bill of Rights, just as the seventh and eighth graders in Phillip’s Blue Band discovered these rights and quietly discussed other cases in history where book bans had violated people’s access to information and their ability to disagree with what their governments said.
Shawna noticed that the Red Band’s behavior was more edgy and unsure in the morning, their frustration with the Ban coming out in more physical ways as they figured out what to do about having no more books at school. Toward the end of the day, however, they were able to channel their energy into something productive: “They talked about how we should have a “Book Club”, which would entail covering ourselves with the red Danger tape and holding signs saying that we want our books back. We talked about where best to do that, and by the end of the day we had agreed on holding our Book Club Protest out in front of Brightworks on Tuesday morning.”
As the day went on, we saw the kids begin to transform from scared and agreeable – however upset – to the rules of the ban, into people who started to question why the ban was happening and disagree with the unreasonable barriers to their books.
Amanda’s Green Band had a real transformative experience over the course of the day: “We grew from nervous stares and crying to quiet questioning and then whispers and then wondering if we could act out and then agreeing to be smart about it before we make any moves and then secretly questioning other people and then researching the Bill of Rights and then deciding the Federal Government is overstepping their bounds…. These kids, specifically, had a deeply innocent transcendence: I have to follow the rules; the rules seem unfair; these rules are wrong; I can’t break rules!, but they’re bad; can I break them a little bit?; can I break them a lot?; I have to be careful…. I get to let them convince me to push back against authority.”
The energy and commitment that emerged in the afternoon carried into the evening. The kids from the Green Band started a chain of emails responding to the Ban and making a plan for the next day.
Kaia: I thought that the book ban was the craziest thing I have ever HEARD!!!!!!!! The government only wants to let america know about the good things its done! WHY TAKE AWAY BOOKS!!! They want people to not have ideas so they can be easier to control. I am a BOOK LOVER, so I’m really mad at the government for doing this! I think instead of taking the books away, they could do like, restricted shelves for the younger kids. We are feeling like some people in other country’s who don’t have BOOKS! They said that we could not talk about books, but in the Bill of Rights it says that people have the freedom of speech!!!!!!!!!!!!! It has happened in america before! Its not Brightworks to have no books! I HATE IT!
Frances: In the constitution it says people may do peaceful protests if they do not believe in something that is happening also amendment number 2 freedom of speech we should be allowed info about what’s happening. Also my dad wa telling me about these kids at a school in LA and they just got up and walked out school then meet at some local place to discuss plans. Maybe something like that if I think of anything I will keep you posted. If you have any ideas please share them with me
Audrey: The book ban technically violates the law freedom of speech and the press, and a there’s the law freedom of assembly, so as long as we protest peacefully we shouldn’t get in trouble. Here are my two ideas,
1. Sneak books into school and everyone pulls them out during circle and start reading.
2. Make and hand out newspaper arm bands (because newspapers are like books but we don’t want to rip up books) and write WE WANT OUR BOOKS BACK and we can brain storm other things to write on them.
Ally: I know I wasn’t here today but my mom gave me the jist. I personally think that removing books is a stupid idea and I’m not happy about it. I would elaborate more but I’ll save that for another time. I also saw in the Constitution there is something that we have the right to do peaceful protesting so that’s an idea. Also, in the 4 amendment, if they don’t have a warrant, they don’t have the right to take books away from us. I could be completely wrong and they do have a warrant but if they don’t then this is a loophole for us. I love Audrey’s idea about circle too!
Oscar: well as it says in the bill of rights
Amendment 1: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.
so that means we can write whatever we want and not get in trouble, so i think we should write a newspaper about the ban…
oh yeah and i really think this ban makes no sense, because video games and movies influence kids more than books so if they ban books they should ban video games and movies too
Khalia: i think that theses people are talking the fun away from this school. I say this because this is very really mean. Maybe theses people are faking it. If they aren’t this needs to be fixed because I am very mad. They are talking away one of the bill of rights away. THIS IS TERRIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lucie: We should definitely do a peaceful protest.
I like Audrey’s idea where we sneak books into school and all start reading at circle, and we could also do that with electronics. We could also sneak out and go to a library, and read tons of manga and other comic books… Wait, that manga thing is just me, and probably Ally.
Amanda: Do you think they’ll confiscate the books at the door again? I am planning on bringing mine in, just in case. A getaway idea is good – we can think of a reason to leave (Apollo has to go to the groomer) and just escape for a while.
Lucie: Yeah, the arm band thing sounds interesting, I’m going to wear one tomorrow. ;3 I’m pretty sure they’ll confiscate books again, but I’m bringing mine in anyway.
Ally: I second that.
Audrey: I like that mix of plans and if we get back to school in time we could hand the armbands out to other bands.
Lucie: I’m going to sneak in a book, no matter what anyone else is doing.
Hope, not despair; action, not passivity. What rules can be broken? What rules can be fought?
Day 2 – A Quiet Revolt
So sure enough, on Tuesday morning as the kids showed up to school, they staged a protest on the sidewalk – after they had to give up the books they deliberately brought to school in spite of the Ban. They made signs, armbands, and wore the Danger tape like a badge of honor. They protested the Contraband Confiscation table by bringing dozens of books to make things difficult for the collections officers.
During morning circle and a review of the book ban rules, students held up open books in silent protest and held up signs that said “Bring Books Back!” Gever requested that the Compliance Officers collect the “illegal” books, only to discover that the officers had fully aligned themselves with the students and the collaborators, and they now peacefully refused to participate in the Ban.
The Orange Band realized that while they, as minors, could not avoid the search, Mackenzie, as an adult, could claim her Fourth Amendment right against search and seizure. When she refused the contraband search at the front of the school, the compliance officers threw her out, followed by her students. But this was all part of their plan. The Orange Band had decided that instead of working at school, where they couldn’t do school in the way they wanted without their books, they would find a place that would allow them to and left to the library with triumphant grins.
The building was quiet as most bands quietly left after circle, one by one, some declaring that they were headed out on “field trips”. Most of the bands could soon be found at local libraries as the kids decided to make a change and fight back against the rules. They spent the day writing and researching for their arguments that they would make at Wednesday morning’s hearing where the school would decide to follow the Book Ban — or not.
At the library, Mackenzie and her Orange Band did research and came to several great discoveries to use in the fight against the Ban: We read and discussed books about other non-violent protesters such as Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. We held a work party with the Green Band making armbands and writing letters. Lola, all on her own, found a bunch of books about free speech including A Kid’s Guide to the Bill of Rights. This book was full of awesome stories of kids standing up for what they believe in and cited a couple of supreme court cases that would further our cause…
At a nearby library, Rich was delighted by the passion the teenagers found in the experience: The Indigo Band realized that if they were going to present a compelling argument against banning books, they were going to have to do some research on book banning and, more importantly, the elements of a persuasive argument….Students researched the gifts of reading and learned how to turn an appeal into a well-crafted argument by covering the three aspects persuasive arguments: establish speaker credibility, appeal to the audience’s emotions, and appeal to the audience’s logic – the hearing against a book ban was turned into a crash course in rhetoric, Aristotle style.
Day 3 – The Hearing
On Wednesday morning, we all gathered on the cork floor to hear from each student. Everyone was encouraged to speak, no matter if someone had said the same thing right before them. The important thing was that everyone’s voice was heard. It was a powerful morning! The combination of notes and prepared speeches and strong voices rang true in disagreeing with the Book Ban.
In the Yellow Band, the students explained that Brightworks felt different without books. Without books, they argued, students will miss out on having a good, solid education and won’t be able to learn important lessons. “Characters set examples for us about how to behave,” Ella said. “They inspire us to be better people.” Books provide an escape. “People read books to help them get through things, like if times are tough, people will read a book to help them get through it,” Jacob said. Evie added, “If there were no books, some people would be sad, which would be bad because we don’t want people to be sad.”
The Orange Band focused on the illegality of the Book Ban and discussed freedom of speech and freedom of the press and how both translate into freedom of books. If you are sad, mad, or bored, they said, you can turn to a book, step back from your troubles, and turn to another adventure in another place. They emphasized how books create empathy in readers and ultimately make the world a better place. They also cited a couple of court cases from their research on Tuesday that ruled that children are people, too, and that students have a right to access books whenever they want, and that it is unconstitutional to limit access to books. Also, they pointed out, banning books only makes kids want to read them more!
The Red Band appealed to the emotional part of books: reading makes your brain want to be more creative, books let readers go to a different world, they make readers learn more and are much better for your brain. They also help readers share with others and learn to read and write. Also, bluntly: “It’s rude to take books away.”
Green Banders asked questions: Where will you find out the things you don’t know? How will we remember what we’ve already discovered if we can’t read books? How will young students learn to read? They cited Albert Einstein, who said that if we want children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. Books inspire us to create new things, they said, and learn about cultures different from ours. Besides, as Ally said, “The most important reason is where would all those words go? Trust me, you do not want to deal with a bunch of words running all over the place. Believe me, I once ran into a crazy sentence and let’s just say that it was not pretty.”
Students in the Blue Band focused most heavily on the historical examples of book bans, mostly those that happened in China and Germany, and talked with authority about the First, Fourth, and Fifth amendments in the Bill of Rights. Aidan pointed out, “Benjamin Franklin created libraries so that people could have a free resource to use if they were called upon to serve on a jury or to testify in court. If the libraries limit information, people may not know important facts, and therefore not perform so well in court. People could be convicted guilty for a crime they didn’t commit because of this.” Laurel added, “With this ban, you’re depriving our youth of the ability to read life’s warning signs. This leaves us with a more illiterate society. The US already has around 250 million school-age kids who can’t read. Do we really want more?”
The Indigo Band touched on the end of society as we know it and the end of intelligent human beings, if the Book Ban continued. Harry said, “Every time there has been an important discovery, there was a book that came with it. When evolution was discovered, On the Origin of Species was right there with Charles Darwin to back him up. To shed light on slavery and racism, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was there with a flashlight. And I think it’s important to note, both of these books were banned, and yet they are two of the most influential books of all time. So please, lift this ban, before our society collapses.” Ezra said, “If children aren’t encouraged to read in school, they may not read at all, and that would put them in a situation where they could not function in today’s world. Not having reading material can lead to illiteracy, and that can create major problems.” The future is at stake, if there are no more books.
Each student had a prepared statement; the above are just a small fraction of the eloquent, heartfelt, and well-researched pieces we heard on Wednesday morning.
After lunch, we all met again on the cork floor. Gever, Ellen, and Justine appreciated the kids who spoke out against the ban and talked about how important the whole experience was for the whole community. They said that as we are a school that goes against the rules of what it means to be in school, and often goes against the conventions that other schools have to follow, we choose to go against this– and any– Book Ban rule. As a Brightworks community, we are thoughtful about what rules we follow and which rules we break – and at Brightworks, we will always break a rule that doesn’t allow us to experience things fully, with the information we need, where we are. There were deafening cheers from the assembled students. The Ban was over.
As Orson Welles discovered after his War of the Worlds radio show aired in 1938 to widespread panic, there is no way to predict how people will react when faced with the possibility that everything they have known might change, in the blink of an eye. In the case of Brightworks, we saw and anticipated the trajetory, predicted a few of the reactions, and responded accordingly, in beautiful ways. In other ways that we didn’t predict, the Book Ban brought incredible strength, surprising discoveries, and an emphasis on civil liberty to our students that only served to empower and encourage real-life thinking and understanding of what it means to know what rules and constraints are worth stretching. Books were banned for two days at Brightworks, and because of that experience, we have learned something about ourselves, our relationship to the government, and what books mean to each of us. As the students wrote on their protest signs: