The logical end of the panic around the cancellation of culture and critical race theory still stared us in the face: to stop the left’s oppression of school indoctrination, leftist ideas – in d’ in other words, any idea that does not reinforce white conservative mythology – must be suppressed in the name of freedom.
That’s not how the culture warriors frame it, of course. They present themselves as protecting young eyes from obscenity and pornography and protecting children from racial shame. Take a look at what they actually do, though, and that veneer crumbles pretty quickly.
A Tennessee school board has pulled the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Mauswhich recounts the experience of author Art Spiegelman’s parents during the Holocaust, due to “its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide”, as only sanitized versions of the genocide will do the ‘case.
The superintendent of a North Carolina school district has banned the MLK-themed novel Dear Martin – which the superintendent admitted he had never read – after a parent of a grade 10 student complained the book contained the ‘F-word’ and ‘sexual innuendo’.
A Florida school district removed 16 books from school libraries after a conservative group complained they were pornographic: among them, The bluest eye by Toni Morrison The kite runner by Khaled Hosseini, and just about anything related to LGBTQ experiences.
National campaigns have targeted books such as Not all boys are blue, Lawn Boy, Gender Queer, A People’s History of the United Statessame The Handmaid’s Tale — sometimes choosing titles from lists that promote various reading mediums, other times attacking books that might make little Johnny Football Star queer.
No one has been more aggressive than Texas State Rep. Matt Krause, who is running to become Tarrant County District Attorney. Last October, he sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency asking if any schools in the state had any of the 850 books he included in an attached spreadsheet. As you can imagine, a lot of LGBTQ stuff made her hot book list. But the same goes for books on gender equality, legal rights for teenagers, books on sexually transmitted infections (and books, even novels, that mention teenage pregnancy), a book on 30 years on the abortion debate, books on racism, the graphic new version of The lottery; Life, Death and Sacrifice: Women and the Family in the Holocaust; Below: a history of women’s underwear; W for Welcome: A Celebration of American Diversity (seriously!); Inventors and Inventions (?), a 1968 medical thriller by Michael Crichton and, more ironically, the 1999 Nancy Garden novel The year they banned the books.
One book on Krause’s gargantuan list caught my eye, both because I read it and because since Krause wants to be Fort Worth’s top prosecutor, he probably should too: Michelle Alexander’s. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness. Alexander’s 2010 book, a seminal work in the field of criminal justice reform, does not employ language that would send Granny to the couch passed out. It shows in a nuanced and provocative way that by targeting black men through the war on drugs and “crime resistant” legislation, the justice system has created a caste system to replace Jim Crow segregation under the guise of racial neutrality. You don’t have to agree with Alexander. But if you’re afraid the kids will engage in his argument, that says more about your beliefs than his.
These “populist” movements need to constantly surpass themselves, so they cannot limit themselves to inserting themselves between adolescents and “dangerous” literature.
For example, in Oklahoma, a future Senate bill seeks to prohibit K-12 schools from employing any teacher who “promotes positions in the classroom or any public school office.” that opposes students’ deeply held religious beliefs”. Parents are allowed to sue individual teachers and administrators, and damages are set at a minimum of $10,000. Because that’s not petty enough: “Anyone found liable for damages will pay from their personal resources and receive no assistance from individuals or groups.”
And then there’s Florida Governor Ron DeSantis pushing legislation banning public schools. and private workplaces to make white people feel “discomfort”. In practical terms, this gives racists the right to sue schools because their child’s class reads I am Ruby Bridges and employers because they had to attend diversity training.
DeSantis also concocted a throwback to the 90s: a bill to ban any mention of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools. That is, to nullify homosexuals.
It follows the model of Texas abortion law, giving parents — not the state — the right to enforce it by suing if a teacher mentions the 2016 Pulse massacre in Orlando or, perhaps , asks who was the only “confirmed bachelor” president of the United States. (Answer: James Buchanan, who was in a relationship with Alabama Senator, Ambassador to France and Vice President William Rufus King.)
As if Florida – like Oklahoma and Texas – hadn’t made life miserable enough for public school teachers. But that’s the point, isn’t it? The right bullies teachers into avoiding anything that might cause children to question the world around them.
Donald Trump likes uneducated people. His acolytes want the schools to pump them out like factories.
It won’t work, not the way they imagine it. And if you want to stop them from hearing about racism, or birth control, or why they have body hair there, or why some boys like boys, you’re going to have to find a way to undo the internet. (Don’t think they violated your parental controls.)
Moreover, banning books will only encourage teenagers to seek out the forbidden. And the more we talk about banning books, the more likely they are to read the book banning story – and realize that history never sees the people who do it as the good guys.
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