Today's discussion:

Who left the barbarians in charge of our books?

This week, the CBC broke a story that showed how the Peel District School Board is culling books that fail to meet “equity-based” criteria for books in school libraries. Among the books that are being thrown away is Anne Frank’s diary.

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Sean Speer

It seems to me that this story (and others in recent months) demonstrate the consequences of most of us neglecting the importance of school board elections. Limited attention and low turnout have permitted a small, unrepresentative group of radicals to takeover education politics.

If you want to make a meaningful difference in the world of public policy, the first thing to do is subscribe to The Hub. The second is to run for school board trustee and challenging this kind of stuff.

14th September 2023 at 8:14 am
Janet Bufton

Perhaps a problem in Canada, but in the United States there is a deliberate effort to make more reasonable involvement in school and library boards incredibly costly through harassment and threats. That seems a difference in kind.

14th September 2023 at 9:15 am
Brian Dijkema

This is absolutely true, Janet. It’s also notable that school board trustee elections are often used as a stepping stone to political aspirations. It’s another system of a politicized education system. Education pluralism — akin to AB’s or BC’s — would allow communities that share a particular pedagogical vision to lead and educate at least one degree removed from the realm of politics.

14th September 2023 at 11:04 am
Gary Oxenforth

Whydo we require School trustees ?And I question the use of that word.We have provincial ministers of education and they have a staff.It seems to me duplication of tax dollars.

14th September 2023 at 10:41 am
Gordon Divitt

Very disturbing story and especially sad given the way librarians chose to implement a poor policy

It seems like the relevance and utility of libraries generally has been in free fall for several decades. Growing up in Glasgow, Scotland in the 1950s I often went to my local library and, if they didn’t have something I was interested in, they would order it for me.

A few years ago we were moving house and downsizing post retirement. Our new house was much smaller so one of the prices I had to pay was a radical purge of my personal library. For many years I had purchased biographies of Generals from WW1 and WW2. These 20+ books were hardcovers and in immaculate condition but I had to literally fight with the Mississauga Library staff to accept them. Their logic was they were published too many years ago. Biographies written by knowledgeable scholars too old??? I was initially lost for words then quite angry. Eventually they did accept them but for all I know they might have thrown them away as soon as I was out of sight

Librarians, in my mind, have a sacred duty to preserve and propagate knowledge whatever the source and to resist censorship in any and all forms.

14th September 2023 at 12:24 pm
Mark Johnson

On a broader note, it’s another example of why we need greater scrutiny of what’s occurring in our school boards, for the benefit of everyone across the political spectrum. Whether it’s the disrupted trustee meetings, trustee misbehavior, hot button trans-rights issues, declining math scores, censorship in the name of equity, too powerful teachers unions, or school violence, things seem to be a mess right across the country. Governments and voters need to focus on the school boards now.

14th September 2023 at 10:48 am
Lauraine Howatt

Our society has allowed populist politics to devalue the educated and education itself. social media keeps tossing fuel into those flames. There is no understanding of responsibility for ones actions.

14th September 2023 at 12:10 pm

I taught Fahrenheit 451 in high school English classes for years, and that novel is instructive of where we are heading with censorship or the machinations of the cancel cult. It is going to replace our comprehensive classic tradition with a narrow-minded ideology. Believe me, the novels that reflect this ideology are pouring into schools and are fluff. Fluff doesn’t explore the complicated nature of life, it offers a black and white picture of things, and when implemented into government policy we will in fact be living the dystopia experience in F451.

14th September 2023 at 8:01 am
Luke Smith

Yep. Brian picked the perfect poem to illustrate:

Politics and Art

Brutal policy,
like inferior art, knows
whose fault it all is.

14th September 2023 at 8:40 am

This woke ideology is getting crazier every day. I find it very scary! It’s censorship under the guise of equity. Yikes!

14th September 2023 at 12:08 pm

I think that the fact that libraries are taking books from their shelves that were published before 2008 is outrageous. How are young people, and some not so young, going to receive an understanding of life in earlier years, decades, centuries, unless they are able to read about such things? Certainly mistakes have been made in generations before ours, but if we are able to read about these things and the times in which they occurred, maybe we can develop a more mature outlook of life. Should accounts of the Great Depression, all the wars fought in history, the story of how Canada came to be a country in 1867, to list three examples, be forgotten because they happened some time ago? What about ancient literature, the Holy Bible, and all the great books written by Charles Dickens and many other fine writers – are they destined for the garbage heap? Shame! Shame! Shame!

14th September 2023 at 10:16 am
Stuart Thomson

Thanks for joining us for the second day of Hub Forum. Yesterday, Brian Dijkema emailed Hub editors to tell us he was fired up about this new policy in Ontario schools (a portion of the email was in all caps!) and he turned this piece around in a matter of hours.

A Grade 10 student in Peel Region came back to school last week and found that half the books in the library were gone due to the new “equity-based book weeding process.” Anne Frank is gone. Actually, any book before 2008 is gone. The policy is “brutal and inhumane,” Brian writes.

The province did some frantic damage control late yesterday and rescinded the directive, but is this a sign of the times?

14th September 2023 at 6:33 am
Peter Byrne

Not to go to all-out Conspirator here, but there is absolutely a cancel culture movement going full-steam-ahead; and that is wrong across the political spectrum. We should have free access to information in a free society, not have it culled for ideas that are “outdated” or “unacceptable”.
Free Speech includes ideas you (and even I) find abhorrent, not just the ones you cherry pick.

14th September 2023 at 12:06 pm
Janet Bufton

The CBC story is very upsetting, but it does not describe the intended outcome of a directive from the government Peel Region to cull books because they fail to meet equity criteria, passed down from the province. The criteria described in the story are that the librarians were to start with books that were at least 15 years old, consider them for culling based on “MUSTIE” criteria by the end of June, then consider those books further in steps 2 (an anti-racist and inclusivity audit), and 3 (whether the books reflect student diversity). They did say that books should be removed if they are harmful because of their physical condition (e.g., mold), or if they are “not inclusive, culturally responsive, relevant, or accurate”.

Then, in paragraph, like, 50, of the CBC story, it comes out that the librarians apparently, rather than applying those criteria, just pulled everything from before 2008. So Anne Frank’s diary wasn’t insufficiently woke, it was insufficiently new. This is inexcusable incompetence, but it’s not a parallel, “both sides” problem to mirror what’s happening in the United States.

There are obviously good criticisms in the story. The criteria were so technocratic and onerous that it was probably unrealistic to expect them to be applied as intended. (Though I am skeptical that there is any sufficiently bureaucratically definition of “inclusive, culturally responsive, relevant, and reflective of students” that would make the outcomes objective.) But Peel’s school libraries have experienced bureaucratic insanity, while the right-wing backlash affecting libraries in the United States is much more a case of specifically and much more ruthlessly (it is not part of a culling of old books, but of all books) targeting wrongthink.

14th September 2023 at 9:12 am
Brian Dijkema

Great points, Janet. I do think the concern about culling books due to ideology — woke or anti-woke — is a real problem. For evidence on that, see the stuff that happened in Southern Ontario in 2021. There is a very real “pox on both your houses” story to be told. If you do review of what your library has purchased/repurchased over the last half-decade, and what it features on the “read this” sections, it’s pretty clear that the concern for “inclusive” literature is being interpreted in a way that really does look like a mirror image of the DeSantis situation. It’s real, even if it’s not the big driver here. Though I’d note that it still might be. The board does not clarify what it means by “inclusive, culturally responsive” etc. and I have my doubts about its ability to do so in a thoughtful, humanist way, given the politicization of our school boards and education system writ large in Ontario. Education in Ontario is political from top-to-bottom, and that’s a problem for a pluralist society.

But part of my point is that the technocratic nature of our school board is the more dangerous animal for those who wish our kids to receive a humanist education. It’s more dangerous because it cloaks what are really quite profound judgments about the nature of books in neutral language. The fact that librarians just started chucking books to meet a deadline is the bigger problem! The bureaucracy here will always lend itself to “legibility” — things that are easy to put into spreadsheets and put into reports. It is not inclined to the nuanced, historical, and judgment based nature of curating books for a kids’ library, especially because the schools operate under the pretense of “neutrality.” My point is that humans are complex, and so are their stories. Boards and schools that are built on a framework that self-consciously, and intentionally, tries to wipe out that complexity to meet its own bureaucratic needs might even be worse than the barbarians who want to cull books based on ideology related to sex or gender or race or (pick your topic).

14th September 2023 at 11:01 am
Luke Smith

Rule by librarians>rule by bureaucrats every single time.

14th September 2023 at 8:55 am
Trevor Jones

I have been thinking a lot about the effects of culling older books from libraries. Examples of books that were widely available when I was young, but are no longer, are the Swallows and Amazons series, books by Wodehouse, or Chesterton, and the post-Sputnik books written to inspire kids to careers in science (or at least that’s how I interpreted books like the Danny Dunn series). It’s sad that new editions of these books won’t replace the old ones but libraries are not getting bigger. These books and so much more are available in ebook but will I be reading ebooks to my future grandkids?
I don’t have answers. The only thing I am pretty certain of is that this critical theory ideology is garbage in, garbage out. I pity the children who are being told day in and day out that they are part of a marginalized group, or, preposterously, that they are “settlers”.

14th September 2023 at 2:36 pm
James Osborne

This is censorship that is reminiscent of 1930s Nazi Germany. That didn’t turn out well.

14th September 2023 at 12:52 pm
Bernie Langlois

Elections are great when individuals choose their reps for an elected position
But now groups are formed politically, religiously, cult wise, as well as many other names
advertise with easy sounding monikers and get gullibles to bite and go along with them
There is no knowledge test involve
There should be

14th September 2023 at 11:01 am

This is truly horrible culling on our most beautiful and informative books. You should be culling anything that is graphic sexual and language related to this. We should not be culling beautiful stories and literature that is informative appropriately. No graphic pictures at all for our children. Let’s protect our children and not expose them.

14th September 2023 at 10:46 am
peter Arthur George menzies

We are in an age of Neo-Puritanism and declining empathy, both of which were easily predicted and not so easily avoided. Libraries are where freedom of speech will make its last stand in Canada. They will lose, but they will make their stand. The school system is long gone and likely irredeemable.

14th September 2023 at 8:42 am
Sean Speer

I’m (slightly more) optimistic than Peter. But I do agree that the past several years has reinforced the urgent need for educational pluralism in Ontario. If a Conservative government in the province doesn’t dedicate its political capital to bringing the Alberta model to the province, it is in my judgement a failure almost no matter what else it does.

14th September 2023 at 8:53 am
Gary Oxenforth

I have to agree with you. The sad path this country is on.

14th September 2023 at 10:33 am
Bill Williams

If Anne Frank was gay or trans it would not be discarded. Indeed it would be upheld as modern thinking.

14th September 2023 at 8:04 am
Lauraine Howatt

not true. These types of judgemental inputs are a huge part of the problem.

14th September 2023 at 12:17 pm