America, we have a problem. Neighbors are whipping up a lather screaming our school libraries are filled with smut! They say we must remove the books! That our children must be saved!
Across the nation, there is a culture move to ban literature in our school system – from texts featuring miscarriages to discussions of mental health and suicide. It is one of the most un-American movements of my lifetime.
Among the most notable volumes in offense is Maus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book in which author Art Spiegelman creatively tells the story of his parents surviving the Holocaust. To the vehement criticism of civil rights groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP, the McMinn County, Tennessee school board succumbed to pressure and forced its removal.
In Utah, the Canyons School District has pulled nine books from the library, including “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, the oft-target “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, and several books that are described as homosexual coming-of-age novels.
In Williams County, Tennessee, a local chapter of Moms For Liberty, a conservative parent group, flagged 31 texts and filed the local school board for a formal “reconsideration” of the usage of these texts. One book, “Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech, was removed from the school curriculum, and seven other texts needed “instructional adjustments.”
Where I live in Texas, a posse has circulated a notice asking that Prosper ISD remove certain books from the libraries of our schools – most dealing with the LGBTQ community. To really get people riled up, they are fronting with a book titled “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir and Manifesto.” Yes, it does have graphic drawings and yes, it deserves review. Wise to file this volume under former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography – “I know it when I see it.”
However, the removal of books such as “Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag” or “The Magic Misfits Series” by Neil Patrick Harris smack of a far-right political agenda run amok. Those howling the most about cancel culture, those screaming the loudest about de-platforming from one side of their mouths, are demanding books be banned from the other side of their mouths. It is the intimidating dogma of the Woke Right.
Not only is it a violation of the First Amendment, but these actions also hinder all student’s abilities to learn, do research, and reach conclusions on their own. The best education a child can receive is the ability to learn critical thinking, and this move to ban texts does the opposite. In addition, there is rather obvious ostracization of marginalized communities.
As I understand it, none of the 82 books on the Prosper, Texas list, the 9 on the Canyon School District list, or Maus are part of any assigned reading or curriculum. Therefore, if someone does not want to read these books, they are perfectly free to leave them in the stacks.
Removing these books is a repeat of so many wrongs throughout history. Greeks banned the works of Aristotle and Plato because of their alleged transgressions. Copernicus, Galileo, and Leonardo da Vinci’s theories of the universe were called heretical. Girolamo Savonarola interdicted the arts by not allowing work that he did not find tasteful or worthy to be displayed. The crown of England had a say over news and publications from the Middle Ages until the 1800s. And, of course, the over-cited banning and burning of books in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. In many cases, works were destroyed and their creators prosecuted. At its worst, these actions were a prelude to violence and prosecution.
To this day, many nations such as Russia, North Korea, Myanmar, and China do not have free access to the internet or publications from outside countries. They aren’t the examples our democracy should be following.
Libraries should contain volumes covering all sorts of topics from all kinds of viewpoints. As a Jew am I in favor of “Mein Kampf” and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” being in the stacks? Yes. How else is a student going to learn about and cite the misguided, evil philosophies that led to some of mankind’s worst moments?
The librarian Jo Godwin once said, “a truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.” Nobody can control what you allow your children to read in your own home. But if you are offended, so be it. It is not our role to control others’ access to history, fiction, philosophy, or other thought-provoking literature.
Our schools are supposed to be building minds and not merchandising ignorance. Leave the books in the stacks. Let our students read, question, and learn.