Of Books & Order

I teach in a variety of small spaces situated in a varied and large city. Fall book orders were due this week. I didn’t have time, or energy, to reply. I received the email moments after news of another stream of bans pinged on my phone. Across the country, books of many backgrounds are being canceled and banned. From math texts in Florida to books about babies, books and book bans have become big news. It’s a curious chain reaction. A lever of give and go. I’m reminded of elementary games of tug a war and days of color war. Push. Pull. Ropes tear. Some wars never cease. Red against Blue. Peek a boo. I see you. Children of all ages continue to play. Some nicer than others. Sweet laughter. Chirps. Red robins. Yellow canaries. Blue jays. Primary colors on full display. Lads in bright red cardigans, pastel chinos, and Kelly-green blades of grass. Even as critics cease to silence games of cat and mouse, Maus rises to the top of the Amazon best sellers. Others, too. Not all. But some. And some are more than none. Mathematical calculations tell us so. As some permutations in the world order of operations focus on subtraction, screenshots of word problems on the implicit association test hit CNN’s front page. The Washington Post, too. In spaces where mathematics meets acrobatics, virality solves some, though not all, miscalculations. Babes in Toyland romp. Balls bounce. Marbles roll. I think of Rube Goldberg machines. Connections tangle amidst conspiracies of rubber bands and shoelace ties. Right loops. Left counters. All shoes tied tight. Mostly canvas. Some leather. All denim tucked. Rubber soles on gravel paths. Paths of hard right angles. As my eyes scanned both news and electronic messaging, I populated cells. With care. Carefully curated. A collection of recollections. In small pockets where rows meet columns. Order amidst arrays. All titles typed. All titles climbing. As wars continue to brew.

A siren rings. Emails ping. All eyes look up. Headline news.

All cells populated. Tightly tucked. Open amidst constraints. Pressure amongst pulleys.

Fall book orders were due this week. I received the email moments after news of another stream of bans pinged on my phone. I didn’t have time, or energy, to reply. As more bans dropped, I too fell. Weighted of words & worry.

Before responding to the book ban controversy, take a moment to quiz yourself. On books.

Testing. Tests everywhere. Ready. Set. Go.

1. Which of the following books have been banned in schools?

  • Harry Potter
  • Of Mice and Men
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

2. Which of the following books have been challenged in libraries?

  • A Child Called It
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  • The Color Purple
  • The Great Gatsby

3. Which of the following books have been banned in prisons?

  • 101 Best Family Card Games
  • Slavery by Another Name
  • The Bluest Eye
  • The New Yorker
  • The Elements of Persuasion

4. What do Lord of the Flies and The Handmaid’s Tale have in common?

5. Define public. Are public libraries and public schools truly public?

6. Which of the following words is least like the others?

  • Ban
  • Banal
  • Bandit
  • Bandstand
  • Bandwagon

7. What word is missing from the following list?

  • Chart
  • Chant
  • Chase
  • Challenge

8. In games of cat and mouse, who chases whom?

9. Are games of cat and mouse more chase than play? More play than chase?

10. Rank the following by strength.

  • Amazon Sales
  • Book rankings
  • Calculus
  • Daily News

11. Order the following by strength.

  • Lords
  • Flies
  • Mice
  • Men

12. Order the following by degree.

  • Lords
  • Flies
  • Mice
  • Men

13. Define free. Define freedom.

14. America is the land of the free. True or False?

15. Which of the following children’s books have been banned or challenged?

  • Harriet the Spy
  • James and the Giant Peach
  • The Giving Tree
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Where’s Waldo?

16. When math books are banned with no logic, which of the order of operations can solve the problem?

  • Add
  • Subtract
  • Multiply
  • Divide

17. Which of the following have been the subject of dispute in math curricula? Choose all that apply.

  • Bar Graphs
  • Degrees
  • Departments
  • Polynomials

18. Bar graphs are stronger than legislative gavels. True / False

19. Compare/Contrast: Implicit Associations & Explicit Disassociations

20. Which of the following travels quickest? Slowest?

  • News
  • Numbers
  • Letters
  • Books
  • Graphs

21. Define divide. Define divisive. How are the two similar? How are the two different?

22. Define problem. Define problematic. How are the two similar? How are the two different?

23. Define all. Define change.

24. If the answer to any of the above questions is “All of the above”, does the meaning of All change?

25. When children’s books are banned with no grace, which of the order of operations can restore balance to the equation?

  • Add
  • Subtract
  • Multiply
  • Divide

26. Order the following from strongest to weakest.

  • Plot
  • Page
  • Protractor
  • Protracted

27. First thought when you hear the word plot. Noun or Verb?

28. Define test. Define testing. How are the two similar? How are the two different?

29. Define script. Define scripture. How are the two similar? How are the two different?

30. Imagine a post-ban world. Reimagine a world with no bans.

          Post Script.

          Amidst post-term ponderings, more emails dinged. Angry readers seeking answers. To all things. Again, I react with neither time nor energy to reply. Like any great mystery, the answers lie in the pages. Not of the text of digital screens. But of printed volumes.

         Answers often have no keys. All reason locked. Then clocked. Charters secure. Stacked & stocked of shadows and shady plots. Public service announcements persist. For those seeking answers, perhaps it’s more pertinent to ponder qualifications. And query presumptions. As pages persist of pen and ink. And conflict inspires curiosity. Lids of turquoise and hyacinth pink pull. Tired eyes blink. Minds open. Ready to think. In the small pockets of air between pressure and presumption, who presumes the space to comment on the state and stock of school bells and desk shelves. Perhaps it’s high tide and time to rethink. Queries of qualifications. States of readiness. Schools of suspension.

JEN SCHNEIDER is an educator who lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania. Recent works include A Collection of Recollections, Invisible Ink, On Habits & Habitats, and Blindfolds, Bruises, and Breakups.