It’s been great to see more coverage of the wave of book challenges and censorship attempts — both successful and not. But it’s worth keeping in mind as those make more mainstream media that that in and of itself is part of the goal of the politicians seeking them. They want their names out there, and they’re using such stories as publicity for their own purposes. We saw the election of a governor in Virginia who not only utilized censorship for his campaign, but won on that platform and continues to have his name shared as more book challenges emerge across that state.
Axios put together a fascinating interactive map this week to show what it is people within a congressional district are googling. It should come as little to no surprise that in districts where book challenges are hot that “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) is the top search. The more the phrase is used, the more it’s discussed, and the more information — both valid and misinformation — about what CRT is and is not emerges. The popularity of a term and people’s desire to learn what it means has only further fueled the creation of news sources that look real but are actually right-wing funded outlets. Many of these sites look legitimate, even though they are not.
Beyond highlighting the obvious here that censorship has the perfect breeding ground, it’s also essential to note this allows people to become vulnerable to mis- and disinformation, even if they think they’re able to navigate it. “CRT” has been allowed to be the phrasing of choice because of misinformation, and has also been seen throughout recent censorship waves, images from books being challenges are being manipulated in realistic ways to make something appear far worse than it actually is.
That all in mind, remember you can do something about this and you should. Sharing frustrations on social media is a first step, but it doesn’t achieve the same change as going a step further. This handy toolkit for fighting book challenges and censorship has concrete, actionable steps, small and big, to help ensure intellectual freedom remains a core right in America.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster Requests Investigation into Obscene Materials in Public School Libraries
Following in the footsteps of Texas, South Carolina lawmakers are launching an investigation into “obscene” materials in public school libraries. “Obscene,” of course, referring to books that don’t fit neatly into a white supremacist mindset, including books by and about people of color and queer people.
The governor has sent the matter to the state’s police, specifically noting Gender Queer as a title that may be illegal under state law.
From the Governor’s office:
Noting that the dissemination of the obscene materials likely violates state law, the governor referred the matter to Chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, Mark Keel, writing: “I trust you agree that pornography and obscenity have no place in our State’s public schools, much less in their libraries. Aside from being deeply disturbing and manifestly inappropriate, it is likely illegal under South Carolina law. Accordingly, by copy of this letter, I am simultaneously notifying the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division of this matter for further evaluation.”
Don’t expect these broad state-wide investigations to slow down, and anticipate that the language being used by censors — “grooming,” “pornography,” and other terms which align with legal statures — will be the reasons such cases are opened. (It should be clear Gender Queer nor other favorite censor titles are none of the above).
Students Strike Back After Books Removed From School Libraries in Kansas City
Students should not need to stand up for their right to intellectual freedom, but one of the most important things we’ve seen come from this wave of challenges is that they are not only making their voices heard, they’re getting change made.
Now in Kansas City, Northland students have begun a petition to reinstall two books pulled from their libraries. The books are All Boys Aren’t Blue and Fun Home. The North Kansas City School District removed both books from the library after The Northland Parent Association complained.
The petition has received 900 signatures as of this writing, and the group of students have taken to social media to bring awareness to what’s happening in their district, as well as a neighboring school district.
From The Kansas City Star:
Jay Richmond, president of the Northland Parent Association, objected to the books during the North Kansas City Schools’ board of education meeting on Oct. 26.
“I’m shocked and absolutely aggravated at what is in our school system, what’s in our school libraries and what is available to these students,” Richmond said. After singling out the graphic novel “Fun Home,” Richmond said: “If I were to hand this material out to a minor or read or give any of these books to a minor, I would be charged with solicitation of a minor.”
The student group, however, said in its petition that the books targeted by the parents association are centered around themes faced by people of color, women and the LGBTQ community. Liberty Public Schools, according to the students, is also removing books the parent association has objected to.
Give these kids support and encourage them on their vital work to keep these books on shelves in their school library.
Virginia School Board Members Suggest Burning “Sexually Explicit” Books
In a lot of ways, this story has taken off because of how outlandish the suggestion to burn books is, but it’s important to note that statements like those are made purposefully to give the person saying it power and attention. For Spotsylvania, Virginia, school board members, it’s a reaffirmation of their beliefs and hope to continue serving in their roles come the next election season.
The discussion began when parents in the Riverbend High School district discovered digital books available through their school library’s app. Specifically, they were shocked to discover queer books, including 33 Snowfish by Adam Rapp (published in 2003 — this is not in any way a new book).
School board member Rabih Abuismail was among those who voted to remove that title and several others, and the board demanded to know the policy for book selection and inclusion within school libraries. But rather than learn about it, Abuismail claimed whatever the policy is hasn’t worked, denying librarians the ability to do their own job per standards.
And worse, Abuismail made it clear he also doesn’t know the role of a public library nor the concept of separation of church and state.
From The Free Lance-Star:
Two board members, Courtland representative Rabih Abuismail and Livingston representative Kirk Twigg, said they would like to see the removed books burned.
“I think we should throw those books in a fire,” Abuismail said, and Twigg said he wants to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”
Abuismail said that whatever processes are in place “haven’t worked” and demanded an immediate audit of all school division library holdings.
He said he doesn’t like the idea of Rapp’s book being on school division library shelves for one more night and that the fact that it is in a school library means public schools “would rather have our kids reading gay pornography than about Christ.”
Abuismail accused division Superintendent Scott Baker of not being proactive by looking into school library holdings before parents raised concerns.
“Dr. Baker, you saw this coming from Northern Virginia—did it not occur to you to check what is on our libraries?” he asked.
It’s positive, though, that the superintendent defended the professional judgment and work of his librarians.
“I would not have thought to do an audit because I have great faith and trust in our librarians,” he said. “If we find something being missed in a process, then we do refine the process. There was no ill intent here. We don’t have all the information.”
Goddard Schools Return Books to Libraries After Parent Challenge (Kansas)
How about some positive news before rounding up more discouraging and frustrating stories?
In the Goddard Schools, a parent challenged 29 book titles, including The Hate U Give and more. Not all of the books were available in the school collection, but all of them dealt with racial discrimination, sexuality, and gender identity.
From The Wichita Eagle:
The Goddard school district has returned books to the shelves of school libraries after one parent’s objection to language in a novel about the police killing of a Black teenager spurred the district to briefly remove an unknown number from circulation.
“Today, after the review, the recommendation from principals and librarians is to leave all books active and to encourage parents to contact them directly if they have questions about the books being challenged nationally,” a Wednesday afternoon district email to parents and staff said.
The news doesn’t mean the fight is entirely over, as it’s likely the books may continue to go through the review process — at least the ones that are in the collection — but for now, they’re completely accessible to students.
Saturday Night Live roasted CRT and book censorship last week in their cold open and it’s worth a watch. Start at 2 minutes: