AI Isn’t The Threat to High School English. Censorship Is: Book Censorship News, December 16, 2022

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Making its rounds on social media over the past two weeks is a story from The Atlantic about the end of high school English class. It’s not necessarily what you think it might be. The author, a high school teacher in Berkeley, California, explores how ChatGPT, a conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI) system, might radically alter the future of English education. Students can, for example, feed the system a prompt for class and develop an essay with the help of the AI, never needing to do the actual work of writing and editing from scratch themselves. While sure, AI could make cheating a lot easier, this reads a lot more like a problem of an insular wealthy community in the backyard of Silicon Valley than one that would radically change English classes outside that bubble.

A quarter of Americans still do not have broadband internet access at home. This segment of Americans includes young people who are in school. Can AI impact those students utilizing it at school? Absolutely. But the fact of the matter is, this shouldn’t be the concern of the shifting face of high school English classes. Censorship should be.

Censorship, happening across the country at never before seen speed by right-wing Christian nationalists, fueled by group think, by big pocketbooks, and well-connected politicians, is the true threat to what a high school English class offers. English, which explores reading and literacy, teaches writing and critical thinking, and dives into the art and science of rhetoric, is being irreversibly changed by the current climate of censorship. Regardless of whether a book has been pulled from curriculum or from school library shelves, educators are at the mercy of adults who are making a hobby of creating chaos via challenges, via undermining their expertise, and via actual threats to their safety. We’ve seen quiet/silent censorship become more talked about in the wake of all this, but all we can ever know about how widespread such soft censorship is that it is impossible to measure. Unless educators fess up to changing curriculum, to avoiding certain conversations in the classroom, or not recommending or sharing certain books, then that censorship goes unnoticed. Critical conversations that help form the basis of English education, including argumentation, evidence that supports said arguments, and introduction to a wide range of ideas meant to be discussed openly and frankly, are halted when “Critical Race Theory” or “Social Emotional Learning” or “Pornography” or “Grooming” are casually tossed about by white supremacists demanding education look exactly as they want it to. English that is whitewashed, falsified, and fabricated.

To worry about AI changing English classes is to ignore the enemy already sitting in the classroom. It is to ignore the fact that there are students across the country, in vast numbers, who do not have access to books or reading outside of the classroom. Who do not have access to books with people who look or act or think like them because a few white women declaring themselves the experts on what is and is not appropriate said so. It is akin to suggesting that banning books is a good thing, actually, since it’ll “sell a lot of books.” Indeed, some banned books see sales increase, but that statement overlooks the actual issue. Banning books is intellectual suppression. Banning books is revoking First Amendment rights.

At the end of the day, students lose when their access to books of all kinds is restricted.

If they write an essay or answer a prompt with AI, they’re cheating. But if they never get the chance to read a book — or if they can’t articulate the difference between arguments like “leftists like to ban To Kill a Mockingbird” from the reality of “leftists have incorporated books like Dear Martin to ensure that discussions of racism also incorporate the voices of those whose ancestry and/or heritage includes that horrific experience” — we’re in far more trouble.

Students unable to think for themselves because they’re not being introduced to ideas or being challenged to read books outside of the bubble that Joyful Warriors say is okay are the students who these very groups will be able to easily recruit, pumping them with the ideas for them to think and act on.

The way students are able to think for themselves is having access to diverse, inclusive literature…the very kind being removed from shelves right now.

AI essay writing as the culprit behind the death of English class is a distraction. But for some reason, it seems a lot easier to accept AI as the end of education and not the very humans who are eager to take responsibility for its destruction.

Book Censorship News: December 16, 2022

  • A Michigan GOP member thinks that the Patmos Library should be shut down by force, marking the first actual threat against the library which lost funding due to refusing to remove four LGBTQ+ books from its shelves.
  • “The Polk County School Board on Tuesday delayed approving the purchase of 37,000 books for the libraries of two new elementary schools that are being built after conservative citizens complained that they did not have enough time to review all of the books before the scheduled vote.” There are two new schools being built in Polk County, Florida, but they can’t buy any books for the library because of conservative complaints.
  • The Concord-Carlisle Schools (Massachusetts) heard from “parents” eager to ban queer books in the school district libraries.
  • In Keller Independent School District (Texas), the school board voted to allow teachers to carry guns. This district has banned dozens of queer books, though, and as a little treat this week, invited a paster indicted on four counts of sexual assault to open the meeting. Let me reiterate: THIS is the future that these people want across the country.
  • In Southlake Schools (Texas), gender and sexual orientation were removed from the anti-discrimination policy.
  • Also in Southlake, the annual donation of dictionaries is on hold because of their draconian book review process.
  • Nice way to frame the fact that bigots who are challenging 97 books in Beaufort County, South Carolina, aren’t allowed on the review committee. They weren’t “shut out.” They’ve made their views clear both in the county and across the country.
  • In St. Tammany Parish (Louisiana), both My Rainbow and I Am Jazz will remain on public library shelves.
  • Moore County, North Carolina, schools just updated their book challenge policy and community members without any ties to the school are mad they can’t get books removed. This is a real quote from Robert Levy, the chair of the school board: “I’m a little disappointed that an average taxpayer probably has to come to the board, as opposed to a parent, to get that taken care of. Otherwise I think it’s as good of a regulation as we’re going to get, and I also believe that we can pass a policy which will amend the regulation.” He’s mad that it takes “an average taxpayer” to get a challenge initiated and not a parent. The district’s previous challenge of Melissa by “an average taxpayer” was denied.
  • In Lake County, Florida, several books were removed from shelves despite no formal challenges to those titles. Why? Citation of Florida criminal code.
  • “Maresh had taken specific issue with Smithfield High School’s ‘Read Woke’ challenge, contending in a letter last year that the social justice-themed books available at the school’s library ‘disparage white people as privileged, inherently racist, oppressors and victimizers.'” This is in Isle of Wright County, Virginia, where they want an even more restrictive book policy because adult white feelings were hurt.
  • An Oklahoma senator proposed a rating system for books through the state using the movie rating system. Guess who isn’t happy about this? The Motion Picture Association.
  • Empire of Storms and Crank will remain on shelves in Kearney High School (Nebraska).
  • West Virginia lawmakers are trying to figure out how to create a book ban bill without calling it a book ban bill. Bonus parent who is mad that a book about Ruby Bridges doesn’t align with her Christian values.
  • Here’s what’s happening in book challenges in the Charlotte (North Carolina) area, both in the public library and schools. Remember when the school administration in Charlotte met with Moms of Liberty not too long ago?
  • “So, they want to ban it – because they want to ban LGBTQ+ youth, erase them, cast them out. This book, in their minds, should be banned simply because it presents a human being who lives differently than the protesters.” This letter is about individuals trying to ban The 57 Bus from Cheyenne Public Schools (Wyoming).
  • Bartholomew County Library (Indiana) is surveying its community about where and how books should be shelved in the collection. This library has been under constant attack from right-wing Christian nationalists, so I’m sure this will end well.
  • Life Is Funny will remain on shelves in Northern Guilford High School library (North Carolina).
  • Greater Essex County District School Board (Windsor, Ontario) is pushing back against demands to list all books in the library on the school’s website because it creates a slippery slope (they don’t want to pull an America).
  • “She said more than 5,400 forms were dropped in front of the school board on Monday evening to challenge of 274 books. Weber said the forms were signed by hundreds of community members, collected and brought to the meeting.” This is in Greeley, Colorado, schools, and this nonsense caused the board meeting to stop twice and end early because grown adults could not behave.
  • Gender Queer is being challenged in another school district in Maine (Maine School Administrative District 52).