I had a school visit cancelled this week.
No, not because of the novel coronavirus. The school would not allow me to speak to its middle school students — middle school students — about A High Five for Glenn Burke, my new middle grade novel. The school would not allow me to speak to the kids about any LGBTQ themes.
In preparation for my visit, the school was working with a local bookseller. A pre-order form was sent out to families so that students could purchase books. Some parents – lunatic parents, the school’s words, not mine — learned about A High Five for Glenn Burke and complained to the school.
No, these parents did not read the book. Nor did they want their children reading the book. Nor did they want their children or any children at the school being exposed to LGBTQ themes.
The principal didn’t stand up to the parents. The principal didn’t stand up for her students. The principal didn’t stand up for her community. The principal let the bully parents dictate policy. The principal let the bullies win.
The school is in Long Island, New York. It’s a Catholic school – an accepting and progressive Catholic school, the school’s words again, not mine. The school knows and acknowledges it has LGBTQ students. The school claims to support all of its students.
But saying you’re accepting and progressive, and saying you support all your students is one thing. Being accepting and progressive, and actually supporting all your students is another.
When you erase LGBTQ books and eliminate access to them, you are not being accepting and progressive. You are not supporting all your students. When you erase LGBTQ lives and stories, you are not being accepting and progressive. You are not supporting all your students. You are engaging in censorship, and worse, you are abandoning your moral responsibility. You have not just allowed the bullies to win, you have allied with the bullies. You have become the very thing you said you were against.
I had a school visit cancelled this week.
For months now, I’ve been discussing this insidious form of censorship and erasure with K.A. Holt, the author of the middle grade novel Redwood and Ponytail. She’s also had schools cancel her appearances when cowardly administrators have failed to stand up to the loud bullies in the community, when cowardly administrators have pledged fealty to the bully parents. Kari Anne has helped me find the language to speak on this issue.
Educators, administrators, school boards, and parents talk a lot about kindness and empathy. They talk about how to teach it and model it. But too often, when it comes to our LGBTQ students, it’s just talk.
That’s not acceptable. Because lives are at stake. Children’s lives are at stake.
When books are kept from kids because of close-minded and fear-driven adults, and when individuals are erased because of close-minded and fear-driven adults, what we’re really teaching and modeling is that people without empathy prevail, and that kindness only matters when it’s shown to certain people and defined by a loud few.
Trust me, our LGBTQ kids hear this message loud and clear. And when that message comes from the adults they trust, it moves beyond bullying to cruelty.
When A High Five for Glenn Burke came out in February, Pernille Ripp, an educator and the creator of the Global Read Aloud, wrote a beautiful review. But in that review, it’s almost as if she knew some schools would try to erase this book and LGBTQ kids:
So I write this post to not just highlight the incredible masterpiece that is Phil Bildner’s new book, but for us, the adults, in the lives of these children to understand just how much it matters for our kids to be seen. How much they hope to be represented in our libraries, in our classrooms, in our curriculum, in our teaching staff. That some kids don’t get to be accepted at home so they hope that school is the place where they will be. That some kids face hatred before they come into our rooms and hope that with us they will be accepted for whoever they are, wherever they are on their journey. And they hope but it doesn’t always happen and soon they learn to hide that part of themselves, because it is safer to live half-hidden than be known for all that they are.
I had a school visit cancelled this week.
We had a signed contract in place for more than six months. The opening paragraph – the opening line — of the signed contract reads:
“WHEREAS, the Sponsor is familiar with the Author and the work of the Author and requests that the Author personally visit the Sponsor to enhance the opportunities for its students…”
In terms of the presentations, the signed contract reads:
“The focus of the presentations shall be the Author’s process, the Author’s books, the Author’s life, and other related topics.”
The school knew I was openly gay. The school knew about my books. The school knew about A High Five for Glenn Burke and that I’d be talking about it with the middle schoolers. The school visited my website, read my social media posts, and watched my videos. The school knew what I shared at my author appearances.
The school acknowledged and admitted they were breaching the terms of the signed contract. The school paid me not to show up. They paid me not to speak to the students.
They paid me to go away, to erase me.
It’s scary for schools to stand up to the bully parents. The bully parents are loud and say hateful things. They’re driven by fear and ignorance. And standing up isn’t just scary, it’s often risky. Sometimes jobs and livelihoods are on the line.
But when a school allows the ugly and loud voices to be valued over its own students, the school fails its students. When the interests of the misinformed and fear-driven bully parents outweigh the life-changing and often life-saving needs of its students, their experiences, and their existence, the school has failed.
This week, this school taught its LGBTQ students that their stories are not valid, right, or appropriate. They taught its students with LGBTQ family members and LGBTQ friends that the stories of their loved ones are not valid, right, or appropriate. This week, this school taught all its students that LGBTQ lives are not worth as much. Their lives and their stories are worth less. As a child, when you internalize the message that your story – your existence – is worth less, you begin to believe and understand you are worthless.
My heart aches for the LGBTQ kids at this school.
My heart aches for all the kids at this school.
My heart aches for the cowards who accept erasure as an answer.
Thank you for always speaking up. For everyone.
Phil, It is discouraging that you don’t mention school librarians in this post. We are all about freedom to read. One of our core value is intellectual freedom http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill . School librarians should have district approved policies on challenged books that would support administrations in a decision to not censor these books. Librarians don’t accept censoring. Team up with us. We are a strong, informed, and passionate community who supports freedom to read.
Huh. This cancellation did not involve a school librarian. This cancellation did not involve a school district or district policies. If you read the post (again), you might not be as discouraged.
Can you PM me the name of the school? As an educator and college consultant I’d like to know. Thx
Wow! I know you are upset and reacting to the cancellation of your reading. You were very dismissive and rude to a school librarian, who was only trying to reach out and make a connection.
Come visit us, Phil. We’d be happy to have you- check out our Rainbow Conference line-up. 🙂 Also, I have to say that from my personal experience as a librarian, being on the banned book list is an honor, and guarantees that your book will be checked out, read, and loved!
Your article, like your books, are well written and thought provoking. Too often Administrators allow this to happen. Is it any wonder we can’t wipe out bullying, when the adults allow it to happen?
Sorry to read this. Wish I had the resources to bring you to the west coast. Thank you for sharing!
I m with the parents on that one. Its their right, their kids.
Yes parents should have the ability to make decisions for their children. But they should not have the right to affect decisions that impact ALL the other children in the school. If a parent does not like programming being offered in the school keep the child home for the day or consider moving to a school whose values aligned with the family.
I imagine it was a few parents, not all parents. Do you want other parents deciding what your child reads? Who your child gets to lis ten to? Bully parents don’t represent the majority in a situation like this. But they are the ones who get to call the shots. And that’s wrong.
Whatever students are not allowed to learn/discuss in a school setting,they learn out there with the “WOLVES”.
The parents are the community. If they don’t want you there then the community doesn’t want you there.
So, LGBTQ parents, students, and teachers are NOT members of the community?
The students are the future of the community. How about we start paying attention to what they need?
A *few* parents does not a whole community make, Phil M. Your comment lacks reason.
As a parent who lives on Long Island, would love to know the name of the school. They deserve to be exposed and I would love to ensure my children never interact with hate mongers.
I’ve actually reported the school to the American Library Association — Office for Intellectual Freedom. They keep a database of this type of activity, censorship, and hate.
Would you consider sharing the name of the school with other authors? I visits many schools and I’d definitely want to know if a visit invitation is from a school with a history of censorship.
So many times, it isn’t a majority of the parents who comment or protest; just a few very vocal ones who seem to feel that they speak for and protect the morality of the entire community. And no one stands up to them.
This is ridiculous. I’m buying your book for my middle schooler right now and will recommend it all over the place. I’m sorry for the children who missed seeing you, because of the intolerant homes they’re growing up in.
My heart aches with yours, Phil, for those hearts you would have touched.
I am a librarian in Seattle, WA and my school and students just had the great fortune of hearing from Phil Bildner. It was hands down the most impacting author talk we’ve ever hosted. Not only did kids come clamoring for his book, but Phil spoke directly to kids, letting them know that each and every one of them matter, not in spite of who they are but because of who they are. Kids need this book and I’m so thankful we have brave authors like Phil writing these stories so all of our kids can be seen!
Stacia, I loved my visit last week! Presenting in the Commons was amazing. I’m so glad the kids had a good experience. Thanks for helping to let the world know about A High Five for Glenn Burke.
I missed Pernille’s rec, so I hadn’t heard of A High Five for Glenn Burke. I am so sorry that ignorant folks did this to you and to the students, but please know that because of this post, there will be 300 more 8th graders in Maryland who will have access to your book and your story. Heading off to purchase copies now.
The upside of this: If this book joins other great books on the Banned Books List, then more copies will be sold and more people will read it. Keep up the struggle!
I understand the thinking, Deborah, but I don’t want this book on a Banned Book List. I don’t see an upside to hate and child abuse.
Here’s the thing – at a Catholic school the parents really do run the show because they pay the bills correct? So, bad parents but not bad principal and not “bad school” because Catholic schools certainly don’t represent all schools and I don’t really see how Catholic schools could bill themselves as “progressive” because doesn’t LGBT go against their fundamental beliefs? I’m 100% against what the school did but it’s not surprising at all and we shouldn’t lump all schools together because public ed has a hard enough time as it is, we don’t need negative press by association. So, a Catholic school cancelled your author visit, not just a school. There is a difference. Sorry that happened though.
Catholic schools aren’t just run on tuition. Also donations and a LOT of funding from their local diocese. I work in a private independent school (not tied to any religious organization), and we don’t let the parents, who pay the bills, call the shots on everything. Yes, they have a major say, but we ultimately make the call. (At least our administration does.)
P.S. Phil McKrakin was an attempt at humor by a coward not using their real name. Their opinions carry less weight with me as a result.
These pushy, bully parents are the root of the problems for schools in these times. Wether it be not liking a book or an author, or challenging a call made over dress code or phone use or a teachers words or school policy…. so so many principals have turned spineless, because these parents don’t stop. They push and rail and swear and go right past you until they get what they want. They say it is for their kids, but to me, it’s a power trip that blurs lines from the power a Keyboard Warrior feels and it coming to life. We are seeing it with kids too. It is probably the most disturbing part of education. You don’t like something or someone or their beliefs or who they are? Flip out, push and scream, and get your way while you obliterate another.
I am so very sorry this happened to you, and to these kids. You’ve been to our district before and you were an absolute delight- probably the best speaker we’ve ever had. What a loss for the kids.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I immediately purchased a copy of the book. I plan to purchase another and donate it to our school’s library. I hope others do the very same.
I have a question. If the school had proceeded with the appearance but made accommodations for students and/or their parents who didn’t want them to participate – would you still be as upset? It seems like an opportunity was missed here, I definitely agree. But I think your assumptions are dangerous and equally fear inspired to label those who disagree with you as hateful, ignorant, cowards.
You have the right to share your story and be as open about your lifestyle as you choose and I, personally, think it is important for middle grade students to have exposure to different walks of life – I think this age is so pivotal to forming one’s adulthood and often the last chance to reach a kid before they jump off the deep end. But not all parents feel that way. You can’t force someone to accept you anymore than they can force you to change your life. It has to be understood that both sides have a right to their opinion otherwise you run the risk of being a bully yourself. So again, I ask – would you have been okay with an opt out clause in the “contract” for the appearance?
No. I was told I was not permitted to talk about what we had contractually agreed I was allowed to talk about. The school wasn’t interested in making accommodations. There was no missed opportunity on my part. I’m not making assumptions. I’m relaying facts.
The missed opportunity I was referring to was the school’s. You didn’t even answer the hypothetical question I posed. If, from the jump – or in response to the parents’ reactions, the school – or any future school – had been willing to make accommodations for parents to have their students opt out – would you still have agreed to the appearance?
I told the school I was showing up to honor the contract. I wanted to be there. I wasn’t allowed to be there. If a parent wants to pull a kid because of their homophobia (re: child abuse) that’s on them. I’ve faced that type of homophobia (re: child abuse) in many other schools I’ve visited. I’ve had many kids “excused” from my presentations over the years because of parental homophobia (re: child abuse).
Phil, I’m so sorry you had to go through this. I see you. I have an idea- is there a local public library near this school? Reach out to them, tell them your story, see if they have a space where you can still do an appearance for the kids and families that want to see you. It’s worth a shot, right? Censorship is horrendous.
I love your books and can’t wait to see it in paperback so I can add it to my collection! So sorry you have had to go through this. And glad you’re stronger for it. Keep on keeping on and Bev’s idea about the library is awesome!
Continue to change lives and make a difference! The world needs more kindness and tolerance!
A name from the past! Thanks so much for taking the time to read the post. I hope you get the chance to read and share the book.
Add my voice to those saddened and outraged that you were subjected to contract breach and censorship. I understand it’s hard for you to see an upside to this, but there is one: for every chickenshit school administrator or other official who knuckles under to ignorant, bullying parents, there are several others who will be just as offended and angry as I and you are and work to counter the attempt at censorship by spreading the word and generating invites for you from more sympathetic schools, with more courageous people running them. Some of them have posted responses here.
And the ones who bailed on your contract for fear some bigoted parents would sue or cause other trouble? They’ve practically guaranteed that at least a few of their students will now seek out your book to see what they’re so afraid of the kids reading or hearing about. You’d think people experienced in dealing with teenagers would know the quickest way to get them reading any book is to tell them they’re not allowed to read it.
I leave you with this quote from a great author, the late Robert Heinlein:
“Secrecy is the keystone to all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy and censorship. When any government—or church, for that matter—undertakes to say to its subjects, ‘This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,’ the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives.”