Conservative activists are becoming increasingly powerful in determining what books are on school shelves. Districts in Texas began requiring parental approval for books; in Utah, parents not only have the power to control the books their child borrows, but they have equal status with educators to challenge and review books for inclusion in the library.
This policy in Utah is perhaps one of the first successes of conservative parent groups. Beavers says BookLooks doesn’t track how parents use criticism for school policy challenges, but the group Utah Parents United is featured on the site as the “keeper of the library” and has been instrumental in bringing the state to implement its current system. Beavers herself testified in her local school district in Brevard County, successfully challenging 19 books for review in May.
But these challenges don’t come without a fight, on Facebook and elsewhere. An organization opposed to book bans, the Florida Freedom to Read Project, says rating systems like BookLooks ignore the fact that teachers and librarians are specifically trained to recommend books based on development, interests, and ability. maturity of the child, although the materials are currently categorized into age ranges suggested by editors and publishers.
“They [conservative rate-and-review groups] I want to restrict what is available to everyone, but these rating systems are made by people who have no expertise,” says Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the FFTRP. “We would never do an opposite system. Another scoring system is not necessary.
Groups like Ferrell’s worry that ratings are erasing the voices of members of marginalized communities. “These reviews that focus only on controversial topics in an attempt to limit access to books they disagree with reflect a bias that fails to take into account the needs of the diverse families and individuals served by the schools. and public libraries,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in a statement.
Scary stories of “pornography”
Many parents in conservative groups say pornography is one of their main concerns. Beavers, for example, cites an oral sex scene in Maia Kobabe Gender Queera coming-of-age graphic novel, as the reason she was spurred into action. Gender Queer has been banned in many schools across the country.
“We ask that the books be reviewed and brought into compliance with pornography laws and judge what would be appropriate for a school setting,” she says. But his group’s view of what is considered pornographic doesn’t always align with the laws. On August 30, a court in Virginia dismissed claims that Gender Queer and another book, A court of mist and fury by Sarah J. Maas, were obscene. The dismissal means liberal groups now have reason to challenge book bans in other states.
Ferrell says the work of the FFTRP was founded when conservative activists began pushing to remove Gender Queer of his local neighborhood. She and her co-founder purchased books to distribute to local librarians and also held public book giveaways featuring diverse voices.
For her, the fight is about the quality of her children’s education. “Most parents want to give their child more access, not less,” she says. “I really worry about the future of raising children because of this.”