A Statement from Disinvited Author, Phil Bildner
Written by Phil Bildner, Children’s Author @PhilBildner
“Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance.” – Laurie Halse Anderson, Author
Whenever I present to kids at my school visits, I always booktalk other authors’ books. It’s important for kids to know about the great stories that are out there.
I always talk about empathy, too. There’s an empathy portion of my school visit presentations. We talk about characters who are different than us. Look different. Believe different things. Dress differently. Because when we read, we develop a better understanding of the human experience.
That’s what I tell the students.
Last September and October, when I visited the thirteen elementary schools in Round Rock ISD, I booktalked a number of books: Wonder; Out of My Mind; The One and Only Ivan; Crenshaw; El Deafo; George.
I booktalked George to fourth graders at six schools and to a combined assembly of third and fifth graders at another. I shared with the kids the book’s most basic and beautiful message. Be who you are.
But I didn’t talk about George at all the schools.
At the last six schools I visited in Round Rock ISD last fall, I was monitored by an administrator. No, not an administrator from that school, a district administrator. At every presentation. In fact, the Director of Library and Media Services for Round Rock ISD attended more than a dozen presentations at five different schools.
I’ve been visiting the Round Rock schools every year since 2007. I can count on one hand the number of times an administrator from any district has stayed for even a portion of my presentations prior to last year.
So ask those administrators who attended last year’s presentations about those presentations. Ask the Director of Library & Media Services about last October’s monthly librarians’ meeting held after my final school visit last fall.
And while you’re asking questions, ask Round Rock ISD how this all started.
Ask them that.
Written by Kristin Pekoll, Office for Intellectual Freedom, Assistant Director
I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Phil on the phone and communicating via email. His distress at this situation is palpable. His number one concern is for the kids and the librarians. You can’t google his name without tripping over the accolades and resounding endorsements from librarians, students and other authors. I was reading this account of a school visit at England Elementary School with Phil, where the librarian, Emily Kupersztoch, starts with, “One of my favorite days of the year is when Author Phil Bildner visits our library for a Writing Camp with 4th grade!”
Yet despite all of these testimonials, the school district claimed to “make other arrangements.” They provided no other reason or communication to Phil. Are the librarians questioning the decision to disinvite Phil Bildner? Are they hearing complaints from families who were looking forward to his extraordinary writing camps? Are they reading the strong supportive letters from award winning authors like Ellen Hopkins, Kirby Larson, and R. J. Palacio? We don’t know. Because no one is talking to us. Is this censorship? We don’t have all the answers. Help us continue to ask Round Rock ISD for a response to our questions.
Point number 3 of the Library Bill of Rights encourages “III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.” We hope you challenge the administration with your questions. There is strength in numbers. There is support for an educator or community member who stands against censorship. How exactly does someone challenge censorship? How can you best ask questions?
- Write a letter
- Post on Social Media
- Attend a Board Meeting
- Thursday, June 23rd @ 6:00 pm. Located at Round Rock High School Lecture Hall. 300 Lake Creek Drive in Round Rock, Texas.
- Public Comments
- Make a phone call
- Dr. Steve Flores, Superintendent, 512-464-5022
Ami Uselman, Director, Library Services, 512-428-2975
- Have a conversation!
- Talk about this with anyone, your neighbor, your children, your colleagues, the mailman!
- In your community and your state! @TXLA; @RoundRockPL; @diversebooks
Editor’s Note: Round Rock ISD has not communicated via social media. When OIF emailed Round Rock ISD they replied the same day.
Bad Day at Round Rock
I stopped teaching and/or administrating in schools in 1981, yet I have never stopped thinking of myself as an educator; hence a story like Phil’s screams at me to act. But I’m not Stephen King or J.K. Rowlings or anything close to that; my voice alone is pretty much that of a failed stand-up comic. So when I have something to say, I need the help of the voices who have walked with me through times much like Phil’s.
Phil Bildner’s books celebrate diversity in funny and compelling ways. His presentations include even more diversity than do his books, as he, too, sees himself as an educator and brings attention to ethnic, racial, gender and gender preference issues addressed in great books by other authors. As you will read in his blog below, he enjoyed nearly ten years of highly successful, well-received visits to Round Rock ISD in Round Rock, Texas before being suddenly disinvited. They didn’t run out of money; they didn’t discontinue their author visits for some logical reason. They invited him, then they disinvited him. No one from Round Rock will say it, but if you follow the bread crumbs, they will lead you to his presentation of George, by Alex Gino, a highly acclaimed story narrated by a trans kid.
I’ve been here. They invite you, it’s all set up; they prepare, you prepare, then the voice of fear and control shrieks from some histrionic mother or father, or a conservative group – usually religious – into the ear of an administrator who is more concerned with the sensibilities of the willfully ignorant, than the education of his or her charges. You get a letter saying they’ve decided to “go in a different direction.” The true educators, the teachers and librarians who invited you in the first place, won’t give you any more than the “different direction” explanation, for fear of losing their jobs. I don’t blame them. You always know what happened, but you never get to hear it.
God, could I have used Bildner’s books and the books for which he advocates when I was growing up. We got Little Black Sambo. Epaminondas. When we played “Ring Around the Rosie” the last one down was a nigger baby. I didn’t even know what that was, but I sure as hell didn’t want to be the last one down. It took most of the sixties and seventies to cleanse my tarnished soul.
I don’t argue that we haven’t come a long way since then, because we have; but always through resistance and never without ugly residue and some new group of folks to turn on.
So Round Rock ISD embarrasses itself irretrievably in the name of “keeping their children safe.” Yet I’ll bet you anything that the vast majority of Round Rock citizens think this is bullshit. There are a whole bunch of them who recognize the electrical magic of Phil Bildner’s previous visits as well as the value of his books; they just don’t get together. They have lives to live, jobs to go to. They don’t have time to cook up the antidote to the toxic brew these hysterical few have concocted to poison the excitement and creativity of their elementary school children.
Shame on us all.
Look, if your education doesn’t make your life better and you a better person; doesn’t tickle your curiosity and your creativity and drive you to knock on the door of the unknown, what the hell good is it? The censorship of ideas is always lethal, but even more deadly when it’s aimed at younger children because the earlier that sense of curiosity and wonder is dulled, the harder it is to retrieve.
Between Phil’s blog and the information from OIF, all the players are named. Let them know what you think; let the educators who have been silenced know you stand behind them and let the purveyors of this idiocy know that you know who and what they are.
I am saddened to read this sorry but certainly not surprised. As a middle school English teacher, I can state from personal experience that all it takes is one fanatical parent to threaten all the hard work and progress you have made with your students as readers. Sadly administrators don’t support student choice in the classroom. Even as a veteran teacher, I self censor for my own preservation. It is the sad reality of the state of education.
“the school district claimed to “make other arrangements.” They provided no other reason or communication.”
Who says they MUST provide other reasons or communication? Wait, I know the answer to this one.. NOBODY.
“Are the librarians questioning the decision to disinvite Phil Bildner? Are they hearing complaints from families who were looking forward to his extraordinary writing camps? Are they reading the strong supportive letters from award winning authors like Ellen Hopkins, Kirby Larson, and R. J. Palacio? We don’t know.”
“We don’t know”
^ Correct, you don’t know, but I do 🙂 so I’ll share some more with you. To answer all of those questions: NO, NO & NO. Everything is peachy in Round Rock and Phil simply won’t be invited back. Deal with it Phil (and Phil’s overzealous lackeys).
Phil–I am appalled…but not surprised. Back when my Holocaust novel BRIAR ROSE came out (in which one of the central characters/heroes is incarcerated in one of the infamous Nazi Pink Triangle camps) the book was taken out of the local library and burned on the steps of the Kansas City Library. That was 20 plus years ago.
Anything I can do to help? We in education and children’s books are supposed o be better than this.
Standing with you Phil. We are at the most critical moment in our history since the civil rights movement. Such a compelling moment in time. As a country, are we going to cross the bridge to real acceptance and understanding? Or continue to drown in the river of prejudice? A true Honest Angel would be the first to embrace those who are overlooked, downtrodden, misunderstood, feared, bullied, and bruised for being different. An honest angel would love first, then love again, and keep loving. An honest angel would have no time for judgement. No need for labels. An honest angel would protect the weak. Attend to the lonely. Bless every child everywhere at all times. Where in the world are the true honest angels? Step forward. The need is great. Your time has come.
Your mission statement that you removed was to be SUBVERSIVE in your works with children. That is not the type of person I or most want around their kids aged k-8. Sorry! I stand up even if alone and applaud the school district. Most would state that Liberalism and the inability to have Christmas, prayer, Hanukkah, Easter, Halloween allowed in our schools is a product of Subversive people like Phil . I would hate to see where Schools and America would be if all of you were truly in charge. Remember these are OUR kids, not yours. Just like Target had to pay the price for allowing men in the ladies restrooms with stock drop, customers boycotting and ultimately forcing them to come up with private bathrooms…. You guys need to understand that parents will unite and do the same to stop SUBVERSIVE talk to kids. ( Look up the definition of that word ) Why did you remove that Phil?
If a district brought in an author who told 8-year-olds that they should all read the Bible, even if their parents don’t approve, what would your feelings be about that? No one had a problem with Phil encouraging anyone to read any book until he informed children that their parents were bullies if they didn’t agree with the reading choices. It is Phil’s inability to self-censor that has gotten him into this fix. Why on earth would any district hire such a loose cannon?