Three Future Targets for Book Censors: Book Censorship News, January 13, 2023

It’s a new year, meaning that the groups and individuals creating hell for public educators will be developing their new plans for continued “work.” What began as an attack on “Critical Race Theory” in 2021 — spearheaded by the right-wing darling Christopher Rufo — has morphed into disdain for other categories of teaching and books, including “Social Emotional Learning” and “Comprehensive Sexuality Education” (yes, “sexuality”). These terms used by right-wing groups simply mean they don’t want their children “exposed” to any books by or about queer people or people of color, let alone those who might fall at the intersection of both. None of this should be news to anyone who has been paying attention over the last 18+ months.

Of course, those battles wage on. We’ll continue to see races for school and library board seats over this year, with those whose agendas include censorship to be itching for those roles. We’ll still see books being pulled left and right, with titles not even on shelves in some of these institutions included. More “bad books” lists will continue to emerge, and we’ll keep seeing groups like Moms For Liberty claim they don’t curate BookLook/BookLooks but then have their members claim to be authorities on how to best run a library because they’ve volunteered to build this nonsense, unprofessional database.

Parents and “parents” will continue to show up to meetings or create events that allow them to get their 15 minutes of fame in right-wing social media circles. They’ll cry about being persecuted for their beliefs and that they’re just doing what’s best for the children. That they, who’ve never once worked with kids or teens or with literacy or education, know what’s right.

We’ll still see teachers targeted. We’ll see certain Twitter pages send harassment to overworked, underpaid teachers and librarians, which will continue to decimate both fields of incredibly talented and passionate people. We’ll see more and more bills clamping down on everything related to art and creativity if it doesn’t fall within the moral boundaries of white, cishet Christian conservative values. It won’t “just” be Drag shows but include any and everything these groups can lump under the umbrella of “indoctrination” and “pornography” and “grooming.”

Many will continue to be surprised, but there’s no reason to be at this point in the game. Nothing should be surprising. The agenda is and has always been to defund institutions and direct that money to homeschooling and private schooling so that the actual indoctrination of those right-wing “values” can continue.

But what might this year bring with it that could be new or novel? Or maybe those aren’t the right words. Maybe the right words are…what vulnerabilities could be poked at next in the system for these groups and individuals? Here are three places you might see being targeted in the coming year.

Book Awards Committees and Lists

One of the easy targets for book censors are the books on “best of” and “awards lists.” In many libraries, those are automatic purchases for the collection, given they have been deemed of important literary merit or they fulfill a need that can be hard to find. The committees making those decisions, though, have to be professionals, right? In most cases, yes. But in some cases…the right amount of money can get you a place on the committee.

There’s a reason these committees have been seeded by experts: they require work, time, knowledge, and commitment. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there willing to do just that in order to have their viewpoints seen as “legitimate.”

Will this happen in a big way? Probably not, but it’s still an area that might see some action on the behalf of groups like Moms For Liberty. They have the money to help support people who want to do this, and given how much time they spend building a database of naughty books, it’d be irresponsible to think they wouldn’t give it real consideration. This might be an issue that happens in more localized groups than on a national scale.

Public Colleges and Universities

This week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appointed Christopher Rufo to the board of New College, a public liberal arts school in the state. This appointment means, without question, the oversight of the school’s education, down to the books allowed for use in classes paid for by students seeking an education, will be under the eye of someone who literally created the “Critical Race Theory” panic and who has been behind the movement to out educators in public schools as “groomers.”

It is not really shocking to hear this appointment happened on the second anniversary of the Insurrection.

Until now, colleges and universities have been fairly unscathed in the movement for censorship. But don’t expect that to last. What private institutions do is up to those institutions; what’s at stake is what will be taught in public schools. This includes community colleges.

What will curriculum look like under these sorts of appointments remains to be seen. Given what we’ve seen happening already, though, chances are these will be “Classically minded” — in other words, cishet, white, male, and Christian nationalist educations.

Who is actually doing the indoctrination here?

Interlibrary Loans and Library Consortia

Finally, another area to keep an eye on is how these censors might take aim at interlibrary loan, as well as library consortia. For those who aren’t versed in library land, many public libraries work with others within a geographic area to help provide access to materials. My library might not have a book, but they would be able to get it for me from another public library or a university library within the consortia. These consortia also offer professional education and development to members, alongside several other benefits.

It doesn’t take much to imagine a world where these become limited in their use. A library or school library that is part of an interlibrary loan consortia may not be able to request certain titles for their patrons because it’s been banned in their district. Certain trainings within these groups may be off limits to professionals because their community will protest or revoke funding for them (for example, Madison County officials may decide they won’t pay fees to be part of the consortium that allows queer books to be shared or the right-wing residents of Jamestown, Michigan, may vote to do something similar). Suddenly, a community is left adrift and unable to access any materials outside of what a small, vocal group deems acceptable to have in their own local library.

Of course, these three things are but the tip of the iceberg. Knowing and thinking about them, though, is crucial for understanding that this is not in any way about the books. Continuing to suggest this is about fear of exposure to new ideas or books is to take a naive approach to this. The goal is erasure and eradication of anyone — people, actual humans — who do not fit the white nationalist mold.

They’ll do it by whatever means necessary.

Book Censorship News: January 13, 2023

  • “Schools in districts that were subject to a book challenge in the 2021–22 school year were 55 percent less likely to have acquired one of the 65 books about LGBTQ characters published between June and August 2022, according to the study.” This is the definition of silent censorship, and these numbers reflect only those district representatives willing to actually say this. Nothing in this report should be surprising: it’s the point.
  • A vital read about how the books in Granbury Independent School District (Texas) continue to disappear.
  • Speaking of Granbury, no one would truly be shocked that the cops were behind it.
  • In Mahopac Schools (New York), two challenged books will remain in the school. I’m paywalled from the story, but I believe the titles are Looking for Alaska and The Hate U Give. Parents can opt their kids out of having access to them, though.
  • “‘This is not about censorship, it’s about parental rights and a parent has the right to choose, or the guardian, has the right to choose what their small children hear, read, watch on TV,’ one attendee said.” This is over the reading of a book featuring two queer characters at storytime in Floyd County public library (Indiana). The board meeting was packed, but no action was taken. I think the approach here — put the books being read out on display ten minutes beforehand so caregivers can decide whether they’re staying — is a solid one.
  • How many pastors showed up to congratulate the Wilkesboro schools (North Carolina) for removing Looking For Alaska from school library shelves?
  • Here’s how the village trustees responded to the Riverside Public Library (Illinois) choosing not to remove Gender Queer after complaints. It’s actually good.
  • “The Central Bucks school board (Pennsylvania) voted 6-3 to adopt a controversial policy Tuesday night that will prohibit employees of the district from advocating for or displaying items that reflect partisan, political or social policy agendas.” This new book policy is DRACONIAN. Open season on educators and education commences here.
  • The president of the Lafayette Public Library Board (Pennsylvania) is an absolute ghoul. I don’t often note trigger warnings on the censorship posts, since readers know what’s going on here, but in this case, note this is about suicide.
  • Sumner Memorial High School (Maine) is dealing with challenges of Queer and Gender Queer.
  • At Hermon school district (Maine), the parents who complained about 80 books and proposed a parental book review system (huh, wonder what one it is!?!) had their request turned down by a rational school board. Glad to see professionals can continue being treated as such.
  • A review of the book Sex Is a Funny Word at the Keene Public Library (Nebraska) can’t happen yet. Why? The person who complained about the book won’t give it back to the library.
  • And the local schools in the same Nebraska community assure people they don’t have the books being challenged at the public library.
  • “A Crawford County school district’s plan to pass a sweeping ban on library books that they deem inappropriate or obscene, including books that deal with LGBTQ issues, has once again divided the rural community.” This is Saegertown, Pennsylvania, and the decision on whether or not to ban pretty much any book they feel like it has divided the town. I wonder why.
  • Apparently the decision whether or not to uphold the First Amendment rights of everyone in Valley City Public Library (North Dakota) will be determined via how the community responded at their meeting last week. The decision will come on the fate of Let’s Talk About It in two weeks.
  • In good news, Stamford, Connecticut’s Ferguson Public Library has declared itself a book sanctuary. You can learn more of what that means at the link and here.
  • “I don’t want to be safe. I want to be challenged. I want to learn more, be pushed outside of my comfort zone, and confront challenging issues. I want to be treated like an adult.” A very thought-provoking piece on censorship and the current educational environment from a high school senior in Missouri.
  • Five books in Clay County (Florida) schools will not be removed, but they’ve been age-restricted in the district.
  • Paula Vogel’s play Indecent will not be performed at a Florida high school because of the Don’t Say Gay bill (bonus is it’s also likely because of antisemitism).
  • Meanwhile in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, The Bookshelf saw their antiracism books under fire as a man tried to steal them out of hate.
  • “Although the board has changed the library’s collection development policy to prohibit the placement of sexually graphic books in the children’s section, the board expects to conduct  future public meetings on the matter.” This is Hamilton East Public Library (Indiana), and it begs the question of what the hell “sexually graphic books” means. The book in question that started it is Making A Baby, a book written for kindergarten–3rd graders about how a baby can be made.
  • And further, Indiana lawmakers are eager to revive a bill that would criminalize librarians for the books in their collections.
  • A bizarre story about a reading of The Sneetches being cut off at Olentangy Local School District (Ohio) during an NPR podcast event for an economics lesson. If that sentence was not confusing enough, the reason given was that the Dr. Seuss book discussed race, which wasn’t appropriate for the lesson.
  • Fun Home is under fire at Jacksonville Public Schools (Florida).
  • “The proposal seeks to prohibit materials containing obscene or sexual content, including content regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, from children and teen sections of the library.” This will be under discussion at the Rapides Parish Public Library (Louisiana) in the coming weeks. What. Does. This. Even. Mean.
  • The Infinite Moment of Us, The Hates, Identical, and Are You My Mother? will remain on shelves at Kearney Public Schools (Nebraska). I appreciate the board calling it precisely what it is: political nonsense.
  • Wilson County (Tennessee) schools were to decide whether or not to remove The Perks of Being a Wallflower this week, but the board meeting needed to be rescheduled. Keep an eye on this one.
  • A deeper look at the high school teacher in Florida trying to get 150 books pulled from school libraries. Surprise: she’s been a long-time bigot.
  • “The bill, which stems from concerns about explicit materials in school libraries, would amend the definition of ‘child pornography’ to include any form of depiction of ‘explicit sexual conduct’ where the visual depiction or the process of producing it involves, shows or has been modified to show a child engaging in an explicit sexual act. It specifies cartoons and drawings as included in the definition.” This is a freshman lawmaker in Wyoming eager to get more books banned.
  • In important work, Sarah Huckabee Sanders decided the first order of business as Arkansas governor was to ban the word “Latinx.”