This week is national Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. In recognition of Banned Books Week, we wanted to share the thinking behind the building of the Abrome library.
Abrome holds the radical belief that young people should be free to learn what they want to learn when they want to learn it, so long as it does not interfere with or harm anyone else. That learning happens best when Learners have full agency over their education. That dialectical learning greatly enhances one’s education. And that Learners should have access to resources that challenge their beliefs and assumptions.
We do not have classes or curriculum at Abrome, and we do not lecture Learners in order to instill certain values or beliefs. Instead, we give Learners the time and space to engage in learning that is meaningful to them. We focus on creating a culture where intellectual vitality thrives. We encourage Abrome Learners to challenge themselves by seeking critical feedback from their peers, reaching out to people with alternative opinions, and tapping the nearly endless stream of information available over the internet. And while we encourage tapping the resources that are now available due to the increased accessibility of information and connectivity of society, there is still something special about finding a nice, warm, comfortable spot where one can lose themself in a book.
Although we are a new school, we take a lot of pride in our library. In part to promote a love of literature, we have 700 books conveniently spread across multiple bookshelves throughout our space. To promote intellectual vitality and dialectical inquiry, we filled our shelves with challenging books in terms of prose, content, and message. We chose books that were highly relevant in terms of cultural literacy, that are of great historical significance, that promote ideas both virtuous and reprehensible, and that may not otherwise be accessible to Learners at traditional school or public libraries.
Our books generally fall into a few categories that traditional school libraries also have, and a few that they do not have. Among the categories that our library shares with traditional school libraries are a wide range of children’s literature, classic literature, biographies, domain specific (e.g., mathematics, physics) books, and reference books. Even within these categories, we hold titles that have often been challenged or banned by more traditional school libraries.
Outside of these shared categories, Abrome carries books that are not generally embraced by traditional school libraries. The reasons for their exclusion most often revolve around perceptions of morality, particularly as they relate to or intersect with politics, race, religion, sexuality, gender identity, drugs, or violence.
While 700 does not make for a particularly large library, we are proud of the fact that a good number of these books have been banned in the past. In fact, our library includes every book that has been banned or challenged that the Library of Congress included in their exhibit, “Books that Shaped America” (which includes Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, ironically).
We do not push any of these books on Abrome Learners; we allow them to sit on the shelves waiting to be found. If a Learner stumbles across one and dives in, we are ready to share in their learning, to make suggestions on other books and resources that may be worth seeking out (especially those with alternative viewpoints), and to talk with them about where they can take their learning next.
A selection of the books in the Abrome library that some have considered too controversial for young people, or that have been banned or challenged include:
· The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
· The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X and Alex Haley
· Beloved, Toni Morrison
· Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, Susan Kuklin
· Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown
· The Call of the Wild, Jack London
· The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
· The Color Purple, Alice Walker
· The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx
· The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
· Howl, Allen Ginsberg
· The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
· Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
· The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
· Lolita, Vladmir Nabokov
· Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler
· The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
· Our Bodies, Ourselves, Boston Women’s Health Book Collective
· The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
· Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
· Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, Mao Zedong
· Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky
· To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
· Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
· Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
· The Words of Cesar Chavez, Cesar Chavez