This week’s roundup of book challenges and censorship attempts doesn’t dig into a couple of things. First, the political appeal of using censorship as a tactic for inciting fear and moral panic was already covered earlier this week, and second, the roundup will not be covering right-wing media’s bizarre claims that Attorney General Merrick Garland is sending the FBI to school board meetings to harass censors. He has indeed offered a memo in support of school districts who have seen violence and intimidation this year as conservatives show up to meetings in droves and create chaos.
As seen in the last few months, the books under fire across the U.S. this week will be familiar targets, including Gender Queer and Lawn Boy. The same talking points appear again and again, with censors claiming that these books are “grooming” children and “pornography.” By using this specific language, as opposed to explaining what’s actually happening in the books — neither grooming nor pornography — they’e able to warp research on actual pornography and childhood trauma to books like these, which are safe spaces for discussing these topics.
Likewise, the anti-“critical race theory” (CRT) crowd has made a lot of noise this week, too.
Here’s your regular link to a handy toolkit for fighting censorship and book bans in your own town, as well as how you can help in the fight for intellectual freedom beyond your own community.
“Black Lives Matter” Story Removed From 5th Grade Books in Florida School District
In a Sarasota school district, officials removed a “Black Lives Matter” passage from a 5th grade vocabulary textbook. The move was to align the text with the state’s anti-CRT law.
WFLA reported the exercise was titled “Personal Narrative” and told the story of a father and child attending a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration in June 2020. Some of the vocabulary words included in the passage were “dissent,” “redemption” and “anecdotes.”
Those same words now appear in a new passage about friends marching in protest during the Civil Rights Movement in 1963.
You read that correctly: the passage was removed because of a couple of words that don’t align with state guidelines, as well as the setting of the exercise at a Black Lives Matter demonstration. According to the same source, “The state’s Department of Education […] adopted new rules that class instruction can’t ‘suppress or distort significant historical events’ and that teachers shouldn’t share personal views or try to ‘persuade’ students to a particular point of view.”
Wild that calling the Civil Rights Movement protest is okay but suggesting Black lives matter is persuading students to a point of view.
Again: this was a passage for a vocabulary exercise.
Book Display at Bloomington Public Library in Illinois Under Fire
A book display that sits on the library’s second floor between the adult section and children’s section sparked outrage at the library board meeting. One parent, who saw the display of graphic novels, thumbed through the titles and was aghast at what she saw.
From The Pantagraph:
Jesse Simmons, of Bloomington, said she raised concerns after her husband took her 7-year-old son to the children’s section near the display and he said “something wasn’t right.”
Simmons said some of the selections featured sexually explicit content and drug use.
“I went over a couple of days later … I personally sat down at that display case and thumbed through books for an hour,” Simmons said. “You’ve got promotion of extreme drug use, extreme profanity through all this stuff… blasphemy against God … I could go on and on. It is vile.”
Simmons said she took her concerns to library staff but wasn’t satisfied with the response or the fact that the books remained on display for the last few days of September.
Simmons complained that the library “took away” her parental authority to say yes or no to books before her child picks them up, noting that the library “leaves the responsibility to the parents.”
Correct, Ms. Simmons. It’s literally the public library’s job to do just that, as opposed to serving in loco parentis. The faux outrage over some “inappropriate” books led to an even more outrageous library board meeting.
Simmons on Tuesday confronted the library board during its regular meeting, asking for a “public resolution” on the matter. What that looks like wasn’t clear: Simmons said she didn’t want the library to ban books; one person called on trustees to search security camera footage and fire librarians who compiled the display.
The single display in the area between the adult and children’s section caused this level of response, and the resolution made at the meeting was books on that particular display will include more “family friendly” titles, per the library director.
Whatever that means.
Meanwhile, Gender Queer Under Fire in Normal, Illinois
One of the issues in the story of the book display above was related to why that library had certain books while neighboring Normal Public Library did not. So it’s not really a surprise to see that angry parents took aim at books in the neighboring town’s school. They aren’t the same parents, but chances are they’re not working in entirely independent circles.
Gender Queer and Lawn Boy were the two books under fire at the Normal school board meeting. The Superintendent was prepared, thanks to what she’d seen on social media, and did an excellent job standing up for her staff and the credentials of the librarians who curate the media on shelves.
Superintendent Kristen Weikle said based on social media chatter, she knew many people would want to address library collections on Wednesday.
She reminded the crowd that Unit 5’s certified librarians use professional industry guidance in selecting books, and that those librarians strive to offer books to meet the needs of all Unit 5 students, and reflect society’s diversity.
Weikle noted books in the libraries are not required reading — they are optional.
“Not all of our families share the same beliefs and outlooks, and while it is right and appropriate for parents and guardians to have input over the choices for their own children regarding their reading materials, they cannot make those decisions for other families,” she said.
If a person has an issue with a particular title, “Unit 5 has procedures in place to address those concerns in a civil and productive way,” she said, directing attention to a table with copies of the district’s “request for consideration of materials” form.
Further, the majority of those who showed up to speak were in favor of the books on shelf, including a number of former students of the school.
“It is a case study in fundamentalist pearl clutching,” said Amanda Breeden, a 2016 Normal West graduate.
When the meeting got rowdy, including when the open comment period was abused by those who refused to stay within the time limits allotted, the board called a recess.
The books remain on the shelf. No update has been made whether or not formal complaints were filed — which, as has been seen over and over again, seems to be too much work for censors. They want to have their faces and voices heard, but they also refuse to use the proper channels for it.
Book Removal Called Out by ACLU in Oklahoma
Oklahoma is in the midst of debating their own anti-CRT laws, but before any resolution has been made, at least one school district in the state has been quietly pulled books off their shelves.
“Edmond public schools sent out guidance on House Bill 1775 to all of its English teachers 6-12, instructing them not to use the terms white privilege or diversity in class,” said Megan Lambert, Lead attorney for ACLU of Oklahoma.
The ACLU says they have documents that were sent to instructors where you can clearly see the language saying “avoid the term diversity” and “do not discuss white privilege”
The lawsuit claims that Edmond Public Schools have banned books like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass’ and ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ from being taught in English classes.
“They are specifically texts by black authors or about the black experience or about issues of racism in American history,” said Lambert.
One of the plaintiffs in the case, an Edmond English teacher, claims only white male authors were allowed on the approved reading list.
This kind of quiet censorship is precisely what will continue to happen as more and more states take on these anti-CRT bills and as more politicians use censorship as their platform. School employees and librarians will begin to cull their shelves to avoid being called out or wrung out if such measures become law.
Wild how many of the books pulled and targeted, though, are otherwise considered classics — the exact kinds of books these bills seek to be the only allowable materials for instruction.
Jonesboro Craighead County Library’s List of Re-Shelved Books (Arkansas)
Over the last few weeks, Jonesboro Craighead County Library’s decision to move sexual education books for children from the children’s collection to the parenting collection within the children’s section has been brought up. Though the books weren’t removed, enough complaints led to the decision to make the books less readily accessible to their intended readership.
Now, to access these books, children need to know to look in the parenting section. The stigma this attaches to reading these books — again, all intended for young readers — is significant, and it further patronizes children’s curiosity and interest in their bodies.
Here are all of the books which were transferred, according to KAIT:
You Be You! The Kid’s Guide to Gender, Sexuality, and Family by Jonathan Branfman
Where Do Babies Come From? Boys Ages 6-8 by Ruth Hummel
The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall
Changing You: A Guide to Body Changes and Sexuality by Gail Saltz
Who Has What? All About Girls’ Bodies and Boys’ Bodies by Robie H. Harris
It’s So Amazing! A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie H. Harris
Understanding Gender Dysphoria by Tammy Gagne
What’s in There? All About Before You Were Born by Robie H. Harris
It’s Not the Stork! A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends by Robie H. Harris
It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health by Robie H. Harris
Sex is a Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings, and YOU by Cory Silverberg
Why Boys and Girls are Different by Carol Greene
The parenting section will be located next to the reference desk. This makeshift monitoring of materials defeats the purpose of the public library serving its entire community and doing so with the onus of responsibility falling on parents when it comes to materials their children can access.
It’s a big loss for intellectual freedom and for public library best practices.
North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Continues His Anti-LGBTQ Stance, Belief in Censorship
This could easily fall under politicians using censorship for their own campaigns, and yet, this one has been so out of bounds, it continues to be worth highlighting. Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson of North Carolina came under fire recently for his anti-LGBTQ rants and his belief in removing all books about sex from schools.
At a fundraiser this week, he continued to rally his supporters with even more incendiary language and calls for censorship:
“I believe that homosexuality is a sin. That comes from my deeply held religious convictions. But I also believe adultery is a sin and fornication is a sin. I believe putting pornography in a kid’s school is a sin,” Robinson said. “I am not going to sit silent while you put pornography in schools and present it to children.”
There are some copies of the books in Wake and Durham county school libraries, but both school districts say are not a part of any teaching curriculum.
He was further bolstered by Congressman Cawthorn, who believes the entire U.S. Department of Education should be dismantled and educational standards put back into the hands of parents (huh?).
Again: notice the language here. The specific language these censors use matters and it’s precisely why they’re making the impact across the country that they are. “Pornography” isn’t what’s happening in these books, but by labeling it that way, these censors can claim harm via actual research.
Here’s a note on which central North Carolina schools have the books Robinson finds offensive and how they’re reacting to his comments (spoiler: they’re doing their jobs in upholding intellectual freedom and haven’t received the formal complaints, since it’s far easier to make a name for yourself publicly than it is to do the work).
Clear Political Agendas On Display at North Penn High School, Pennsylvania
Angry parents at the North Penn School District meeting were heated up about Lawn Boy and about All Boys Aren’t Blue, among a number of other titles they believed were aligned with CRT. None of the discussion here is new nor is it interesting, as it’s the same few talking points and dramatic displays of outrage we’ve seen over and over.
What is noteworthy — and what hasn’t been covered well in these stories locally — are the clear political agendas on display with what these same angry parents are wearing to meetings. Part of it might be fear of retaliation toward the reporter (it didn’t feel safe to name the specific group involved in some of the challenges in Illinois in my own early reporting for this reason).
From The Reporter:
Throughout roughly an hour of public comment at the start of the meeting, and then another half-hour at the end after other board business, roughly 60 to 70 parents and residents watched the meeting in person at the high school, with the NPTV livestream hovering around 100 additional viewers at times. As they spoke, several parents from the local “Moms for Liberty” chapter wore matching t-shirts that read “We do not co-parent with the government” or “Let’s Go Brandon,” as others shared their thoughts.
Conspiracy theorists and conservative principles abound in that alone. These aren’t concerned parents but either outsiders working within these groups to infiltrate school board meetings or parents who happen to be involved in such groups.
Many showed up in support of the school board, too, including one parent who redirected criticism to those who’d utilized Bible quotes in their comments.
Kunbi Rudnick said she has two daughters in North Penn schools, and replied to those comments who included verses from the Bible in their remarks.
“For the rest of you, who keep quoting the Bible like you’re the only Christians in the room: Matthew 25-40, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, thy shall do unto me.’ You should go read those five verses, between 40 and 45, and go back to your Lord, which is the same Lord I serve, and explain to him why it is appropriate for you to come up here, be quoting his Bible, and you’re treating other human beings the same way. Shame on you all,” she said.
Residents also took aim at each other during the public comments: Donna Ross of Montgomery Township thanked the board for their mask and COVID decisions, and “for ignoring fake outrage, like those of people in the audience like “moms for Liberty,’ a group of paid agitators supported by billionaires, and the Koch brothers.”
The books under question here seem to still be a bit under question. The school noted that a recent change in collection development policy gave more oversight to selection, meaning that books that are age-appropriate would be better matched to the appropriate buildings. What’s a little confusing is the note on none of the books mentioned — Lawn Boy, Gender Queer, All Boys Aren’t Blue — had circulated via checkout and therefore, sound like they never actually appeared on shelves or would not appear on shelves.
More Censorship News This Week
- An opinion writer for the Western Journal claims that School Library Journal and YALSA are responsible for pornography…err, Gender Queer…showing up in school libraries. Nice to see that we have culprits now.
- In Pennsylvania, the West Chester Area school board meeting got out of hand as parents were mad about Gender Queer. Hard not to notice the trend of when school board meetings require a recess and who is responsible for disorderly behavior.
- The Waukee, Iowa, school board meeting was filled with people who were angry about Lawn Boy, Gender Queer, and All Boys Aren’t Blue. The reporter noted that this is part of a nationwide trend amid school board elections that have taken a decidedly political turn. The three books were removed from Northwest High School for review (note: not banned, but going through the reconsideration process, per policy).
- A parent in the Keller Independent School District in Texas has gone all out Gender Queer and Out of Darkness on her social media. Keller ISD responded to the complaints of Gender Queer by removing the book from the collection. Keep an eye out for this to emerge more broadly. Let’s put a pin right here on how it ties into local politics.
- 15 books are being challenged at Lindbergh High School in Missouri. Students were among those who up at the school board meeting. One parent — standing up for the books and students from queer and minority backgrounds — said, ““You may think that we do not matter, or we do not exist in your school district, but we do. I will not stand by and watch you erase my people’s truths, my people’s stories. If you think having these books available is going to cause emotional trauma harm to your children, then take away their phones, their access to the internet, television, film and basically human contact.” The list of books being challenged are the usual suspects, along with some fresh picks: This Book Is Gay, All Boys Aren’t Blue, The Bluest Eye, Gender Queer, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments (The Handmaid’s Tale 2), The Handmaid’s Tale – graphic novel, Heavy, Anger is Gift, Fences: A Play, Flamer, Black Girl Unlimited, Crank, Out of Darkness, and Living Dead Girl. The books are under review.