If the infiltration of state legislatures by right wing, pro-censorship agendas weren’t enough, at least one major group dedicated to the removal of books they deem “pornographic” (LGBTQ+) and “woke”/”revisionist” (by or about Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other people of color) is demanding action from U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. The group, No Left Turn, wants Garland to demand an investigation across the country of materials in schools.
Linking to these sorts of things of course drives traffic, but you can access a .pdf of the full letter here via Google Drive. It’s not an enjoyable read, but it’s essential in understanding the playbook for censorship.
You’ll see the cherry-picked passages from books, the use of language that suggests teachers and librarians are “using” these books (as opposed to making available), and they utilize specific language to make their case (obscenity and pornography are the most common, both of which are applied to queer books). There’s also almost always an invocation of some legal precedent, applied to the offensive materials in question.
What is always conveniently left out is the First Amendment and rights granted therein. Students have these rights, as has been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court on more than one occasion, including Brown v. Entertainment in 2011. This particular case is interesting in concert with the current push for book removals, as the decision ruled against a California law which restricted the freedom of minors to purchase or rent violent video games.
It’s important to know the ways in which these groups are targeting these books and the language they use to reach those in government, be it school boards, state houses, or, in this case, the U.S. Attorney General. Being aware allows for understanding the why of the movement — it could be a sincere belief, but if you follow the money of these groups, you’ll soon see how many of them are connected to products being sold, including specific homeschool ideologies that seek to destroy public education more broadly. The more these groups can wear down educators, the more holes they create in the educational structure and the easier it becomes to make a case that the system is broken and doesn’t deserve taxpayer money. You can trace a line from the founder of No Left Turn to The Heritage Foundation, which advocates against the public education system and offers a wealth of resources for homeschooling with a conservative, “classical” model. The Foundation’s president is friends with and championed the service of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
There will be more in the coming weeks on the links between these book challenges and the determination of right-wing groups to destroy the public education system from the inside. Utah and Iowa are two states, among many, where this is and will continue to play out in the coming months.
As always, before diving into this week’s roundup of censorship news, here’s a reminder that you can take action. Use this toolkit for how to fight book bans and challenges, as well as this guide to identifying fake news.
Book Censorship News: January 14, 2022
Threats from the state governor are why Keller Independent School District (Texas) keeps their book challenges secret. Keller ISD does keep a database on their website of current books under discussion for potential removal, and the district’s January 12 meeting would take This One Summer under consideration. To Kill a Mockingbird is no longer required reading in Mukilteo, Washington. Llano County Public Library in Texas, which closed their doors to do a library-wide audit on “appropriate” material, removed two books: In The Night Kitchen and It’s Perfectly Normal. The school board for Siloam Springs, Arkansas, removed Beyond Magenta from library shelves. Heather Has Two Mommies is back on shelves in Pennridge elementary schools in Pennsylvania, but now a couple of textbooks are being critically evaluated by the same censor-friendly board. Remember the story of the school board member in Spotsylvania, Virginia, who encouraged burning books? He’s been appointed chair of that school board.Gender Queer is still under review in Pella, Iowa, at the public library. Parents involved in this fight have been advocating for the library to remove their affiliation with the American Library Association, which is a new one. This might be because the Pella Public Library board docs include the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights. Big fan of the line from a parent that they’re not interested in censorship of all books, just some that I don’t like. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Looking for Alaska are under review in Greenville, South Carolina, schools.Natrona County Schools in Wyoming discussed three books being challenged at the latest board meeting. The usual suspect titles are here. Burbank, California, high schools pulled a handful of books from shelves last summer for language reasons, and a Black student in the district wrote an incredible letter to the editor about why those books should be returned. Born a Crime will stay on shelves in Osseo Senior High (Minnesota). Bristow Public Schools (Oklahoma) reviewed 50 books across their schools, removing some from shelves, putting others in different libraries, and developing a rating system to flag books that are appropriate for 16 and older readers, which parents can make a decision about. Remember when parents took Gender Queer to the police after complaining about it being in the Wake County Public Schools? The district attorney is not filing charges. A deep and frightening dive into the minds and beliefs of those eager to censor books. This piece comes from Virginia, which as we know, has become a hot spot for using censorship for political gain. An “equity challenge” in Farmington, Michigan, led to protests and a new slogan that “Family Lives Matter.” Pawtucket, Rhode Island classrooms saw Fun Home pulled. Antiracism books are under fire in Bainbridge, Washington, by fragile white parents. The Mehlville Board of Education (Missouri) wants to vet books selected for classrooms.
A nice read about an 8th grader who launched a banned book reading clubGhost Boys was used as an all-school read in Florida. The story of how they approached this book is an excellent example for discussion and a moderate middle finger to the schools — including this in Florida — trying to pull this particular book. A Pacific Grove, California, teen was inspired by TikTok to get her school to review its curriculum and ensure it’s more inclusive.