Book Ban News: Florida School Board Issues Comprehensive Directive

Every time you turn around, it seems a school somewhere is banning a book after parental complaints. What we should or shouldn’t be allowing–or requiring–students to read is a topic of constant, heated debate.

But, according to this blog post from the National Council of Teachers of English, an Administrative Directive issued by the Superintendent of Florida’s Dixie District School’s has taken things a step further. The directive states:

“As of September 8, 2017, no instructional materials (textbooks, library books, classroom novels, etc.) purchased and/or used by the school district shall contain any profanity, cursing, or inappropriate subject matter. This directive reflects the values of the Superintendent, School Board, and the community.

However, I do realize that AP and Dual Enrollment classes may have set reading requirements that requirements that contain questionable materials that the local district does not have control over. These will be the only materials allowed to be used in our district, provided they do not substantially violate community standards” (Text from Millie Davis’ post on the National Council of Teachers of English blog).

Let’s break this down for a moment, shall we?

The directive precludes material that contains profanity, cursing, or subjective “inappropriate subject matter” from being used by the school district. Depending on who’s doing the interpreting, “inappropriate subject matter” could mean a lot of things. Such phrasing could easily be used to ban subject matter including LGBTQ characters, characters of particular religious persuasions, and really anything that offends those enforcing this directive.

In addition, the blanket statement against “profanity” and “cursing” in books could cripple the English department’s ability to teach a well-rounded curriculum. This could leave students ill-prepared for the types of texts they’ll likely encounter should they choose to pursue higher education

Finally, the apparent exception for “AP and Dual Enrollment” courses with preset subject matter is potentially problematic. Given that such English courses teach literary classics that contain cursing, profanity, and probably “inappropriate subject matter,” it makes sense that this clause was included.

However, allowing only students in AP or Dual Enrollment courses access to these texts is unfair to students who may not enroll in AP courses. Non-AP and Dual Enrollment students should still be given access to a robust literary education,including subject matter that will challenge them to encounter new perspectives and ways of thinking.

Individually, none of these reasons for banning books in schools are new, but this directive seems to be uniquely comprehensive. In fact, while most book bannings have been pointed towards the literary texts found in the English classroom, this directive includes “textbooks” and “etc’ meaning that, if it stays in place, it could be used to justify removing pretty much any course content (science textbooks including certain theories, for instance, come to mind).

NCTE and others have already expressed concerns about the directive. You can read more about this here.