You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post about book banning and censorship. YCRT! features news and opinion roundups, commentary, history, and reviews.

YCRT! News & Opinion Roundup

Reagan-Era Classroom Battles Previewed Today’s War on “Woke” (The Atlantic)

While researching my book on the latest political wars over public education, I came across a 1981 New York Times article that sounded as if it might have been printed this year. It described a coalition of suburban residents who, “armed with sophisticated lobbying techniques,” were fighting to “remove books from libraries” and replace history syllabi with “texts that emphasize the positive side of America’s past.” The article documented efforts by parents’ groups across the country to “cleanse their local schools of materials and teaching methods they consider antifamily, anti-American and anti-God.” Here was a tale of conservative activists waging a national assault on school lessons more than four decades ago, though that earlier generation applied a different label to the threat it perceived than activists do now: secular humanism.

A Brief History of the Grand Old American Tradition of Banning Books (Literary Hub)

In the late 1930s, the children’s book The Story of Ferdinand, about a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight a matador, was interpreted as carrying a pacifist political message. But in a whirl of confusion, it was marked as both pro-Franco and anti-Franco—and also as “communist, anarchist, manic-depressive, and schizoid,” according to an analysis of children’s book censorship in the Elementary School Journal in 1970. In other words, everyone saw what they wanted to see.

John Oliver on Public Libraries: “Another Front in the Ongoing Culture War” (The Guardian)

“You do get the sense that people who want to censor these books can have no real idea of what’s inside them or, indeed, if they’re even at the libraries they’re protesting at all,” Oliver said, citing a case in Idaho where activists demanded that more 400 books be removed from the library, even though it already didn’t have them. “As far as protests go, that’s about as meaningful as marching to the Hollywood sign to demand that Frankie Muniz return his Oscar for Schindler’s List,” he joked. “He’s not there, he wasn’t in that, and the very fact that you’re protesting this tells me you’re probably not familiar with the material.”

Pressed by Moms for Liberty, Florida School District Adds Clothing to Illustrations in Classic Children’s Books (Popular Information)

Stephana Ferrell of the Florida Freedom to Read Project said that Moms for Liberty pushed the district to “deface an illustrator’s work to suit their sensibilities.” She said the group “regularly misrepresents the literary works of award-winning authors as pornography, and now silly, naked goblin butts.”

Florida Book Bans Have Really Gone Overboard if Even Ron Desantis Noticed (Wonkette)

It’s cute the way DeSantis is claiming that he’s not banning books, he’s giving parents the power to object to the books being in classrooms and libraries and using the law to then force schools to remove those books permanently. But it’s not a ban! Don’t you dare call it a ban!

Hanover County Supervisors Censor Commendation for Girl Scout Who Fought Censorship (Radio WVTF/Roanoke VA)

The Hanover County Board of Supervisors spent their Wednesday afternoon meeting approving language to honor a handful of Girl Scouts for completing their Gold Award projects, among other items. But one Girl Scout, whose project was designed to fight what she sees as censorship in the county’s school system, had her commendation “amended.”

Conservative Book Banners Are Redacting Entire Textbook Chapters in Texas Schools (The Mary Sue)

Recently, the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District trustees voted almost unanimously to censor textbooks in schools. … The board members took issue with chapters that dealt with topics including “climate change, vaccination, cultural diversity, depopulation and humans’ impact on the Earth and its ecosystems.” They argued that the topics were “controversial” and could not be taught to students.

Limestone Residents Request State Funding Be Withheld from Public Library (The News Courier/Athens AL)

“What we’re doing here is leaving a loaded handgun around for kids to check out trash from the public library,” Mattson said in January. “We’re adults and we’re sitting around saying, ‘Oh, we need to study this for six for months.’ Meanwhile our children are reading pornography and homosexual literature in the library.”

 An Idaho School District Banned Books. Here’s What a Student Did at Her Graduation. (Idaho Statesman)

Jenkins, along with other students, had spoken out against the district’s decision to remove books from libraries without input from students and staff, and with little transparency. She sent a letter to district administration urging them to include students in the conversation and suggesting alternatives to book removals, such as having different sections for different grade levels or having a parental consent form for accessing the library, she said. But she said the administration shut down her concerns and weren’t open to compromise. “From there, it was a whole school year of students advocating against the removal of different books and trying to protect our libraries,” Jenkins said. “The district did not seem to care specifically about allowing students to be involved in the conversation at all.”

Book Bans Are Hellish Weapons of Censorship and False Narrative Building (The Mirror/Van Nuys High School CA student paper)

This wave of book bans is not, as the politicians and parents claim, a crusade to save children’s innocent souls from graphic depictions of the real world. This is a group of people trying to control the minds of kids by deciding what they should and should not be able to read about and experience. Those leading the book bans want to craft a narrative that excludes some communities and upholds others – all at the sake of millions of kids’ livelihoods, self-esteem and satisfaction.

YCRT! Comment

I started posting about banned books in 2005 and, almost 20 years later, find myself still at it. I’ll continue fighting the good fight, but plan to post less often. I’ve come to feel my news roundups aren’t contributing much to the cause. Attacks on knowledge and reading are getting more media coverage than ever. Do we really need yet another podunk blogger culling links to news stories and editorials, most of which everyone’s already seen and all of which are essentially the same? What’s happening in Alabama is what’s happening in Idaho. What’s happening today is exactly what happened during the Reagan years, and before that during the McCarthy years. Book banners may be more organized than ever, but they’re the same pitchfork & torch-carrying mob they’ve always been. And, more importantly, kids and adults curious enough to read what they’re told they can’t have an easier time accessing forbidden books than ever, thanks to the internet.

If you want to stay abreast of book banning news, the American Library Association publishes regular news roundups on its Intellectual Freedom Blog. It’s probably the best resource for book banning news out there, and ALA’s editors do a far better job of it that I can ever hope to.

—Paul Woodford

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