Florida School Restricts Access to Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration Poem
Amanda Gorman, who in 2021 became the youngest inaugural poet in United States history when she spoke at President Biden’s swearing-in, said she was “gutted” this week after a Florida school said the poem she recited that day was inappropriate for its youngest students.
The Miami-Dade County school district said that one of its schools, the Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes, which educates children from prekindergarten through eighth grade, had determined that the poem, “The Hill We Climb,” was more appropriate for middle school students.
Ms. Gorman, now 25, said in a statement on Instagram on Tuesday that she wrote the poem “so that all young people could see themselves in a historical moment.”
“Ever since, I’ve received countless letters and videos from children inspired by The Hill We Climb to write their own poems,” she said. “Robbing children of the chance to find their voices in literature is a violation of their right to free thought and free speech.”
The Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation’s fourth-largest school district by enrollment, said in an emailed statement that while said that while the poem had been moved to a different section of the library at the Bob Graham Education Center, “no literature (books or poem) has been banned or removed.”
“It was determined at the school that ‘The Hill We Climb’ is better suited for middle school students and it was shelved in the middle school section of the media center,” the school district said. “The book remains available in the media center.”
The challenge to Ms. Gorman’s poem, which was reported by The Miami Herald, came from Daily Salinas, a parent of two students at the school, who complained in March about it and four other titles, according to records provided to The New York Times by The Florida Freedom to Read Project, an advocacy group that opposes efforts to ban and restrict access to books in the state.
The complaint against “The Hill We Climb” lists its author as Oprah Winfrey, not Ms. Gorman, and says that the function of the work is to “cause confusion and indoctrinate students.” Ms. Winfrey wrote the foreword to a hardcover edition of Ms. Gorman’s poem. Ms. Salinas could not immediately be reached on Wednesday.
The other works that were challenged were “The ABCs of Black History” by Rio Cortez, “Cuban Kids” by George Ancona, “Love to Langston” by Tony Medina and “Countries in the News: Cuba,” by Kieran Walsh. The reasons cited for opposing the other works include “indoctrination” and critical race theory, a graduate-level academic framework for understanding racism in the United States that focuses mainly on institutions and systems.
A committee of school representatives, including teachers, administrators, a guidance counselor and a library media specialist, decided that “Countries in the News: Cuba” could remain on the shelves. The other titles, like Ms. Gorman’s poem, were moved to shelves for middle schools students.
On Wednesday morning, Daniella Levine Cava, the Miami-Dade County mayor, invited Ms. Gorman to do a reading of the poem in the county.
“Your poem inspired our youth to become active participants in their government and to help shape the future,” Ms. Levine Cava, a Democrat, said on Twitter.
“The Hill We Climb” is a political and personal poem about national unity. At one point, Ms. Gorman reflects on what it meant for her to be in the global spotlight on Inauguration Day:
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
Descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
Can dream of becoming president
Only to find herself reciting for one.
Florida has become a center of a rapidly intensifying effort to ban books in schools in the United States. Last year, the state enacted three laws that target, at least in part, reading or educational materials.
PEN America, a free speech organization, and Penguin Random House, the country’s largest book publisher, filed a federal lawsuit this month accusing the Escambia County School District in Florida of violating the First Amendment by removing or restricting certain kinds of books from its libraries.
Nationwide, efforts to ban books are increasingly driven by elected officials or activist groups, according to a report PEN published in April. The report found that, of the nearly 1,500 book removals it tracked in the last six months of 2022, 74 percent were connected to organized efforts by activist groups and politicians, or to new laws that determine what books can be in schools.
A separate report published in March by the American Library Association found that efforts to ban books and other resources in libraries and schools nearly doubled in 2022 over the previous year. A vast majority of the 2,571 titles that drew complaints last year were by or about L.G.B.T.Q. people or people of color, the association found.
Ms. Gorman, who is Black, acknowledged in her statement that these efforts often disproportionately target titles that focus on issues such as L.G.B.T.Q. rights, gender identity and racial inequality.
“And let’s be clear: most of the forbidden works are by authors who have struggled for generations to get on bookshelves,” she said. “The majority of these censored works are by queer and non-white voices.”
Amanda Holpuch is a general assignment reporter. @holpuch
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