This week, NPR and several other major outlets ran a story about how a Florida man chose to respond to book bans across his state.
Chaz Stevens is a middle-aged white activist known for his tongue-in-cheek protests. His latest is to ask Florida schools to remove the Bible from libraries because of its inappropriate content for minors. In addition to banning the Bible, his letter to superintendents of schools across the state demanded that all books referencing the Bible be removed as well.
The intent behind this set of book challenges – humorous or not – has garnered a lot of attention. Many praised the efforts, suggesting that while books containing sex, inappropriate language or images unsuitable for minors are banned in schools, so is the Bible. Also, the Bible is what many of these right-wing censors really want to force into the curricula and classrooms, so it hits them in the same spot as the wave of contemporary book bans for everyone.
But stunts like this do more harm than good. They are undoubtedly a step backwards in the fight for intellectual freedom and against censorship. Rather than showing up to defend books taken off the shelves at school board meetings, Stevens and others who choose to protest the books in the name of “fairness” to right-wingers simply have him create publicity for themselves and further strain the time and energy of already overworked school administrators, board members and educators.
Demanding that books be banned to fight book bans is neither smart nor funny. It’s not subversive. It is harmful. He actively works against the cause of anti-censorship and First Amendment rights and takes the momentum gained in the work another step backwards. Plus, it earns the kind of media attention that hard work doesn’t see and therefore can’t be bettered or supported by. Pointing out hypocrisy has been done over and over again – and it doesn’t work.
Fighting book bans with more book bans doesn’t work and it shouldn’t work. Fighting book bans takes time, energy and money, and it requires showing up at school boards, library boards and in your own community. This requires giving money to organizations that are on the ground to do the work, mobilizing people to speak up and defend the rights of everyone to access the documents they want. It’s not about engaging hate with more hate. This does not mobilize anyone and creates a major distraction.
Let’s stop encouraging these efforts and instead demand that outlets like NPR and others pay attention to grassroots efforts that aren’t about publicity, but rather about getting in and doing the hard, thankless work. As has been said many times, much of this can be directly attributed to the death of local journalism, the rise of fake news, and the need to hit the sweet spot of the algorithm to earn clicks.
The same things are exploited by right-wing groups eager to remove books from libraries across the country.
Call to action
There are several elections taking place across the country this spring that have school boards on the ballot. If you’re in Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, or Texas, be sure to go to the polls to elect your candidates in the fall general election or vote to see who will soon lead your district. local school. This will be the most important thing you do for anti-censorship work right now.
You want to do more if you are in these states or Are you in a state that does not currently elect elected officials? Look at what laws are being considered in your state regarding education. The past two weeks have brought a flurry of censorship-related bills, including in Kentucky, Arizona and Georgia. Write to your legislators and tell them to stand up for the rights of everything readers.
We are launching a new newsletter dedicated to all things literary activism. These bi-monthly newsletters will start hitting inboxes in May, filled with stories and calls to action that we are preparing here at Book Riot. Expect summaries from censorship as well as news stories that offer ways to put your passion for books and literacy into action and meaningful change.
Click on the image above to register or click here.
For more ways to take action against censorship, use this toolkit on how to fight book bans and challenges, and this guide to identifying fake news. Then learn how and why you might want to use FOIA to uncover the book’s challenges.
Book Censorship News: April 29, 2022
- Connetquot School District in New York removed Gender Queer shelves for review after complaints from parents.
- Parents debate books and censorship in Hall County, Georgia. There’s nothing specific here, other than a complaint about Eleanor and Park, but more appears in this piece, including complaints about Dear Martin.
- A look at the scope of disputed books across Florida.
- In Polk County, Florida, two books have been approved for schools, including The bluest eye and Things. Several others are under review.
- Medford, Oregon, Schools Pull Graphic Novel Publishing From The Handmaid’s Tale shelves.
- Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is being reviewed for suitability in Ottumwa, Iowa.
- Emails detailing what happened when a unicorn book was challenged and deleted in Buckeye Valley, Ohio speak volumes.
- Janell Ressler, a regular at Littlestown Area School Board meetings in Pennsylvania, challenged 35 pounds. Six of the books have already been approved and will not be reviewed, including The Kite Runner, Monday’s Not Coming, Beloved, The Hate U Give, Looking for Alaska, and The glass castle.
- Here’s what’s going on with a host of book challenges in Savannah, Georgia. There are several links worth checking out in this story, especially where teens stand up for their reading rights.
- The Great Bear and two other disputed books are back on school shelves in the Durham District of Ontario, Canada.
- I’m paying so I can’t provide more, but lawn boy was challenged in schools in the Ramsey, New Jersey area.
- Students in the Williamsburg-James City School District in Virginia will continue to use textbooks that are over a decade old because of parents. This is what will continue to happen in schools across the country with so much “parental oversight” of textbooks – the real losers are the children who continue to learn from outdated textbooks.
- ROWVA Illinois continues to be mired in a mess and now a teacher claims the school board wouldn’t allow her to be hired because she didn’t support the ban The hate you give earlier this school year.
- A politically charged school board in Wausau, Wisconsin has made curriculum choices that are shrouded in both confusion and censorship. In the coming school year, the district plans to begin implementing the Wit and Wisdom curriculum, and at the April school board meeting, presenters discussed four of the curriculum scripts that were a source of contention elsewhere in the country. Quoting Williamson County, Tennessee – remember that? — the new program preventively removed four books:
On a personal note
Over the past few months, with no discernable timeline, I’ve received an odd array of messages on Instagram. The posts began in February and have continued this week. Each is a defense of Ann Burlingame, who I wrote about last December. A FOIA request for emails regarding the removal of Gender Queer from the Wake County Public Library revealed less than flattering (the book was put back on the shelf). messages from Burlingame.
Burlingame’s daughter is the messenger, who believes my career grows through stories like this. The thing is, my job is to share facts, and the facts were clearly stated in the requested emails.
One of the reasons it’s impossible to understand the true extent of quiet or silent self-censorship is because of things like this. Teachers and librarians know that by making the decision to speak up about the challenges or the decision to purchase potentially “contentious” material, they will be subject to such harassment, but in a way that puts their livelihood at risk It’s impossible to emphasize this – no matter how passionate anti-censorship educators may be, they feel that pressure in ways that someone like me doesn’t. After, all correspondence from members of the public government can be accessed via FOIA. It means email, and it means that, as I did with messages from Burlingame, anyone who wishes to access this communication has the legal right to do so. It is much safer for an educator or librarian to remain silent than to risk their life for a choice. This is ethically wrong, but so is the dependence of the American capitalist system on workplace-provided health care, among other realities.
Sorry, Maggie, but it’s not a private conversation if it’s public. When you decide to approach a writer who does their job, it’s no longer private either. *Note that the message, sent privately, has been concealed to protect an individual’s privacy.