How Are Censors Encouraging Others To Join Their Campaigns? This Week’s Book Censorship News, January 21, 2022

This week’s book challenge and censorship news is pretty bleak. There is a lot of it, and when it feels like everything to be found has been found, more appears. We’ll end this roundup with a really positive thing, but before getting there or to the round-up, let’s talk a bit about how groups are riling people up about books in schools.

At the Tuesday night Sumter County, Florida, school board meeting, the board approved use of a book for supplemental reading in a second-semester senior elective health class. The book, The Naked Roommate, has been a supplemental resource for six years in this class, as it addresses topics that students may experience post-high school, including sexuality, substance use, sexually-transmitted infections, and more.

Thanks to Florida’s House Bill 545, passed in June 2021, materials related to sexual education must be made public for parents to review annually. It gives parents the right to opt their children out. Schools must also be in compliance with Florida Statute 1006.40, which governs textbook and material acquisition and use in schools. Finally, Florida’s House Bill 241, another bill introduced and passed in 2021, governs parental rights relating to their children’s eduction. It includes punishments for schools not acting in alignment with said “Bill of Rights.”

Sumter County School District, working to comply with the above, brought The Naked Roommate before the board for parental consideration and input, as well as to make clear the text’s use in the classroom — again, a supplemental text that is part of an elective course, not required reading, and has been available as such for six years.

Days before the meeting, this letter ran in a local paper as a Letter to the Editor:

Letter to the editor about the Sumter School Board compliance agenda.

The letter purposefully ignores vital facts about the use of the book in the classroom, including that the decision to bring the book before the board wasn’t done as a recommendation from the Superintendent, but to be in compliance with Florida laws. More, though, the letter delineates a single, fictionalized idea of college life and the skills necessary for success at college: budgeting, making new friends, handling credit cards, and “how to tackle dorm life.”

More, the letter writer notes, she “wants you [the school] to teach my children math, science, and English.”

By cherry-picking the facts of the board’s meeting about the book, the writer is able to rile up fellow “concerned parents” by selecting examples that fit her specific agenda. Nowhere does she recognize this is a book that is made available to second semester seniors, that it’s been in classrooms for half a decade, nor that it’s part of a health class. Of course students are learning “math, science, and English,” but they’re also learning health.

Groups fighting to remove books from school and public libraries use these tactics to encourage parents, who until now haven’t engaged with these institutions, to speak up and out. They’re presented falsely, in a way that begs those parents to remember they have rights and that schools/libraries are no longer serving in the capacity they should be (“math, science, and English” with maybe a side of budgeting, making new friends, handling credit cards, and “how to tackle dorm life”). They attach language that aligns with legislature, pointing to specific bills and statues that fit their agenda, as opposed to fit the actual situation — a book like Gender Queer, for example, does not break obscenity laws nor is it pornography. But, it is a queer book and features a dream sequence wherein the author worries about what sex might be like as a person with gender dysmorphia. Understanding that requires literacy skills, which require time, effort, and energy to acquire.

It’s easier, sexier, and flashier to be loudly incorrect and encourage more people to your side.

Parents have always had rights. They’ve always had school choice. But until now, many weren’t exercising them. It’s thanks to a host of national and local groups with big money behind them, though, they’re rewriting the narrative to fit their agenda. The quicker that publicly-funded institutions like schools and libraries can be dismantled, the better private, for-profit, agenda-laden, right-wing, white supremacist organizations can swoop in to continue getting richer. The end goals are private schools, charter schools, and home schools that focus on Conservative values and bringing in mega profits for the founders.

It is and never was about the children or their right to learn.

As for Sumter County schools, the board approved the book, but with a caveat: rather than following Florida’s “opt out” option for parents, The Naked Roommate is now an opt-in title, meaning parents have more oversight than already granted to them by the state.

Keep fighting the good fight and keep educating yourself on these issues so you can continue to be an advocate for intellectual freedom for all. Just as a vocal minority has the right to say and publish factually incorrect statements, so, too, do you have the right to do so with facts, evidence, and proof. Use this toolkit for how to fight book bans and challenges, as well as this guide to identifying fake news.

Book Censorship News: January 21, 2022

Further Reading