Roughly a decade ago, Alexandria Martin, an English teacher at Miami Carol City Senior High, assigned a book to her class with a provocative title — the n-word, spelled out — that discussed the origins and ramifications of the racial slur.
The point was to challenge her students: “If [a book] is triggering to people... that’s actually normal,” she told the Herald Editorial Board.
She felt support from her school administration, but, today, she said teachers might not feel as comfortable to assign certain books.
“I think it’s because of all the scrutiny schools are under,” Martin said.
Teachers are under the microscope of standardized tests and school grades. But now there’s new meddling in classrooms — and school libraries. Attempts to ban books from K-12 schools are rising across the nation, according to the American Library Association. Usually behind these efforts are conservative groups that say they want to protect children from pornography and sexually explicit content, as well as material that might make students feel “uncomfortable” because of their race or gender.
The point appears to be to sanitize history and the country’s relationship with race and racism.
Even a book titled “Martin Luther King Jr and the March on Washington” came under fire from a Tennessee chapter of Moms for Liberty for being “Anti-American, Anti-White, and Anti-Mexican.” That chapter of the group — which started in Florida — had an issue with images of segregated water fountains and Black children being blasted with water by firefighters, according to Insider.
Whose sensitivities are being so threatened that the only resolution is this figurative book burning? A list of 850 books compiled by a Texas Republican lawmaker offers more insight.
The list covers titles that “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex,” Texas Rep. Matt Krause said, according to Houston Public Media.
The books include: “How to Be an Antiracist;” “Black Lives Matter: From Hashtag to the Streets;” “LGBT Families” and “The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me,” a young adult novel about a teen who begins dolling out sex advice to schoolmates in the girls’ restroom.
In sum, lots of books about race, the LGBTQ community and — what a shocker — sex.
Lots of Black and LGBTQ authors.
Lots of books that purportedly make white, straight kids — or, more to the point, their parents — “feel discomfort.”
Is it about sex or race?
In Florida, Moms for Liberty led the charge against COVID mask mandates and now has branched out to book monitoring. The group’s Indian River County chapter, for example, has released a list of titles that “contained pornographic and/or sexual content.”
There are depictions of sex in those books. For example, “Looking for Alaska,” a coming-of-age novel about a teenage boy’s experience at a boarding school, has a detailed description of oral sex, though the book isn’t only about sex.
Is this appropriate for students of any age? No. The book is recommend for 14 and up on some websites and 16 and up on others. It’s understandable that some parents might not want it available to younger students at school libraries.
“I think academic freedom needs to be balanced with a sense of what’s age appropriate,” Miami-Dade County School Board Vice Chair Steve Gallon told the Editorial Board.
Where do you draw the line on what’s appropriate and decide whose definition of appropriateness should prevail? What happens when “pornographic and/or sexual content” or “discomfort” are simply a guise to ban anything that offends a small group of vocal parents?
Back to CRT again
The Moms for Liberty Indian River chapter has other books it wants to ban, according Treasure Coast Newspapers: Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to be an Antiracist,” which proposes ways people can fight systemic racism, and Kendi’s picture book for children, “Antiracist Baby.” Moms for Liberty said the latter is, “Completely CRT (critical race theory), racist and unacceptable for children.”
CRT is an academic theory taught mostly in law schools that says racism is embedded in American institutions. It is the new scapegoat for conservatives who don’t want their children exposed to discussions about racism. Gov. Ron DeSantis banned the theory from K-12.
Critical race theory, books and white parents clutching their pearls are a political gold mine for the Republican Party. That’s why these efforts to “protect” students from harmful content aren’t just about parental control.
This is about narrative control and who gets to tell their version of American history. The GOP-preferred version excludes voices and erases the experiences of a large share of Americans.