Parents of an Illinois middle school student called the police earlier this year after a teacher read an LGBTQ+ book in class. The teacher is the co-author of a book for English teachers that advocates for using materials to teach students about social justice.
Outlets reported this week that educator Sarah Bonner read a number of books in March, including one called “This Book is Gay,” which has been banned 10 times in the 2022-2023 school year over objections to its content, according to a PEN America report.
Bonner, an educator for 20 years, told TODAY.com that she wanted to provide students with “a smattering of fiction and nonfiction to choose from on a day that we call ‘Reading Monday.’”
According to its description by the publisher, “This Book is Gay” is a “candid, funny, and uncensored exploration of sexuality and what it’s like to grow up LGBTQ also includes real stories from people across the gender and sexual spectrums, not to mention hilarious illustrations.”
The book’s marketing says it has the answers to questions on topics like “The ins and outs of gay sex” and “Coming out as LGBT.” Images of the book show illustrations of nude men and women and instructions on using dating apps. According to the PEN America report, the title has been removed from school libraries 21 times since the 2021-2022 school year.
“By Wednesday, I received notice that parents had gotten a hold of pictures from that book that their child had taken in class,” Bonner told TODAY. “By Friday, I was told that parents had filed a police report against me for child endangerment.”
Bonner was informed by her school district that she had been placed on administrative leave. Bonner resigned rather than wait for the district’s investigation to conclude.
“The notion that I was putting children in danger because of books – I didn’t feel safe,” Bonner told TODAY. “I knew I couldn’t go back.”
Bonner reportedly built a curriculum with books about LGBTQ, Black and indigenous characters and themes. She blamed the culture war for losing support from communities she had taught.
Bonner co-authored a 2022 book called “Igniting Social Action in the ELA Classroom: Inquiry as Disruption.” The book seeks to help educators create “disruptive inquiry approaches” to move students toward social action.
The book shows teachers how to “ask students to consider how language choices and individuals’ experiences impact that larger whole. Through identifying these details, students begin to find entry points into doing the work of igniting social change.”
“We explore shifts in thinking that will assist students in designing and persisting through work toward social change,” the authors say about the final section of the book. “We suggest approaches for how students can do this meaningful work.”
Bonner and her coauthor argue at one point that equality and equity in the classroom are not compatible.
“We must recognize that if we claim to be neutral, we are choosing to believe in equality over equity. If our practice supports what we do for one student, we must do for all students, we are assuming that our students are all the same,” the authors write. “To teach toward equity means that we must see what is happening to our vulnerable students and make the changes needed to sustain them, not just the students the system already sustains.”