After last week’s news broke of the McMinn County School Board banning Maus, discussion of censorship and book challenges hit a fever pitch in the media and general public. This is great — if a little overdue.
The problem is too much of the discussion is focused on the book itself, as well as efforts to buy the book and others that have been challenged or banned. There are screen shots of social media posts floating everywhere, one in particular show a display of banned books on a Barnes & Noble table with the words “what every bookstore should be doing right now.” Bookstores are sharing on social media that they have the books being challenged and there’s no better time to buy them. In editorials across the media, writers wax poetic about how this is just building their own reading lists.
All of these miss the point entirely.
The Streisand Effect won’t change the reality of censorship. It doesn’t create a movement to protect First Amendment rights. It’s consumerism, packaged neatly as intellectualism and moral superiority. The real attack on legal freedom granted by the U.S. Constitution is downplayed by efforts to sell the books, and while it might put the books on bestseller lists, it doesn’t fix the problem.
Because this isn’t about the books. They’re just the tools.
It doesn’t matter how many copies of a banned book are donated to a school or public library. It’s flashy and it’s something I’ve certainly helped do to make a point. The world we’re in now, though, needs more than that — it needs people on the ground doing something to ensure intellectual freedom remains a cornerstone of American rights.
That’s not to say there’s not good intention behind it. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t make change when the eye of the hurricane is already here. The reality is those most hurt by these book bans and challenges are those young people we see, as well as those we don’t, can’t, and refuse to see. A book being pulled from a school library does have a tremendous impact on kids who don’t have money, transportation, or the ability to be openly themselves or openly curious about the world. They can’t simply buy the book or go to a public library. To think or say as much comes from tremendous privilege.
What will make change is showing up. Write the letters. Call the administration. Run for board seats. Vote in local elections. Be aware of legislation in your community and state, speak up about it to your elected officials, then follow the money. This is a coordinated attack on intellectual freedom, funded significantly by efforts to dismantle public education (and public libraries, though less so in this particular moment) more broadly. Book challenges are a tremendous waste of time, energy, and resources and create a distraction while even more damaging efforts are employed.
The money speaks loudly, but not because you’re buying Maus or The Bluest Eye or Gender Queer. It’s money coming from political action groups and organizations with tremendous legislative pull and hordes of followers eager to identify and align with an ideology.
Keep an eye on a forthcoming Supreme Court case as it plays out in the next couple of weeks. Carson v. Makin is a potential watershed moment for groups working to push school choice, voucher programs, and homeschool agendas.
Book Censorship News: February 4, 2022
- State representative Jared Patterson is singlehandedly targeting Prosper ISD in Texas, demanding over 80 books be removed.
- Polk County, Florida, schools removed 16 books from shelves after complaints from a right-wing, conservative religious group filed complaints.
- All American Boys has caused a “debate” in a Rhode Island high school, as parents don’t like the language or anti-police sentiments in it.
- Gender Queer will stay on shelves at the high school in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
- Campbell County Wyoming’s public library is still working through their list of nearly 50 challenged books. Three more were discussed and will remain on shelves in the teen section.
- North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional district in New Jersey is keeping Lawn Boy, Gender Queer, All Boys Aren’t Blue, Fun Home, and This Book Is Gay on shelves.
- Dear Martin will no longer be used in classrooms in Tuscola High School (NC). Judd Legum’s deep dive into this story is especially good.
- Three books are under discussion in Hudson, Ohio. Lawn Boy was returned to shelves while Gender Queer is still being reviewed. One book, A Girl On The Shore, was removed and “the media specialist responsible will be referred for follow-up […] the follow-up process could include disciplinary action being taken against the employee”
- All Boys Aren’t Blue is under review at the Auburn Enlarged School District in New York.
- Orange County Schools in North Carolina are keeping Gender Queer, Out of Darkness, and All Boys Aren’t Blue on school library shelves.
- 8 books were pulled from school libraries in Forsyth County, Georgia.
- First note that the source of this story is a left-leaning blog, but there’s evidence in the board meeting minutes that backs it up: the Anchorage Public Library (AK) is being destroyed from the inside by the censor-happy Deputy Director.
- Carmel Clay Indiana schools are reviewing five books at the middle and high school level and four in elementary schools.
- The Billings, Montana, school board is keeping two books in their libraries: Lawn Boy and Gender Queer.
- A host of books are being challenged by parents in Baldwinsville, New York.
- This piece talks about the misrepresentation of book challenges in Pitt County, North Carolina of a couple of books…but also that All American Boys was represented appropriately in the challenge.
- A thought-provoking thread from Stephana Ferrell, one of the parents working against book challenges in Orange County, Florida, amid the school district’s letter to state legislators. Right now, Florida is building more and more dangerous bills to erase anyone outside the cis-het-white world from education.
- Remember the librarian who was fired for speaking up about a new policy that censored programs, including an antiracist book club and more? Here’s what the library district is claiming.
- NBC News dives into the Texas book censorship and how it’s impacting students across the state.
- Tremendous reporting from Micah Drew, who has been covering censorship and dirty board politics at the ImagineIf library in Kalispell, Montana. I’ve got a feeling this story might mirror what’s happening in the Anchorage story (see above in the previous section).
- Sign the petition to ensure that Cedar Heights Middle School follows their own policy for book removal — this is a followup from last week’s story about LGBTQ+ books being quietly pulled by the school principal. Here’s what Kent School District has said about this situation (basically nothing except people showed up to the school board meeting in support of the books and librarian’s decision to purchase them).
- Meet the Black parent group organizing to overturn book bans in Texas.
Also In This Story Stream
- Manufacturing Problems with School and Library Books to Cash in on Solutions: Book Censorship News, December 8, 2023
- Most Parents Trust, Respect, and Feel Safe with Librarians: Book Censorship News, December 1, 2023
- Book Censorship News: November 24, 2023
- Where Are The Book Sanctuaries?: Book Censorship News: November 17, 2023
- My Book Was Banned Again — This Time In Retaliation for My Anti-Censorship Work: Book Censorship News, November 10, 2023
- Most People Don’t Know How Librarians Select Collection Materials, So What Do They Think of Book Bans?: Book Censorship News, November 3, 2023
- Ending Censorship Applies to Prison, Too: A Prison Banned Book Week News Roundup, 2023
- They May Not Be The Most Targeted, But They’re Still Banned: Book Censorship News, October 27, 2023
- Are Gatekeepers Giving Up The Fight Against Book Bans?: Book Censorship News, October 20, 2023
- What Else Do Parents Who Believe Librarians Should Be Prosecuted for Library Materials Think?: Book Censorship News, October 13, 2023