Capricious Actions That Cross the Line

From Publishing Perspectives:

[A] digital annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) “would hardly be a meeting of publishers,” said AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante, “if we didn’t address the First Amendment.

“As we all know, across the country, thousands of books are being questioned with a scrutiny that’s newly chilling,” she said, “from novels to math books. This is not to say that parents and communities don’t have a say in public education, as the law is clear that they do. But that roll has constitutional limits. It does not extend to capricious actions that cross the line and amount to censorship. In fact, the line is important.”

Indeed it is. And the association shines most brightly when it operates with such outspoken clarity in public policy and political channels to protect and promote the place of the book industry and its freedom to publish.

“And so last month, in Missouri,” Pallante said, “we were proud to join with the booksellers, Authors Guild, and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to file a brief in support of the NAACP—a case involving the removal of books from school libraries, including award-winning books addressing race and sexuality, such as The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

“In our filing, we highlighted the constitutional rights of minors to receive intellectual information as well as the deep flaws in the school district’s assertion that the banned books were obscene and therefore removable.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests that Ms. Pallante needs a bit more understanding about public education and the constitution.

“This is not to say that parents and communities don’t have a say in public education, as the law is clear that they do.”

To PG’s sensitive ears, this statement sounds amazingly condescending. Public education is, by and large, funded by state and local taxes. To the best of PG’s knowledge, public school boards are elected in local elections by “parents and communities.”

Generally speaking, the public schools where most students are educated are determined by what geographical school district where the students reside. PG is aware that at least some states allow students in one school district to attend schools in a different district, usually, one adjoining the district where they reside. PG is not familiar with the state of vouchers across the United States but believes vouchers aren’t available to the large majority of children in public schools.

PG was raised in rural, sometimes very rural areas where getting to public school involved a school bus ride that lasted 20-30 minutes or more in some cases. Attending a more distant school would have required his parents to transport him there because public transportation was not available in any form. The only practical choice for his education was the local public school so even if “school choice” had existed, it would not have been practically exercisable.

Many states provide “educational vouchers” that allow families to fund attendance at private schools. Typically, private schools that accept vouchers (PG doesn’t think all do) receive an amount per student that is roughly equivalent to the money a public school would receive from local and state funds for a student’s education for a year.

Ultimately, educators receiving state and local funds for their salaries select textbooks for children to read in class, spending state and local funds to purchase those books. School principals and district superintendents are also paid from those funds.

PG suggests that parents have a right to pressure public school officials if they believe their tax money is being used to provide access to books they reasonably believe will cause harm to their children. When a large group of parents supports such objections, public school officials should realize that their concerns should be carefully considered and, in virtually every circumstance, be reflected in the school’s libraries and textbooks.

The Association of American Publishers is located in Washington, DC. Virtually all major trade publishers are located in New York City. PG suggests that these two cities, their inhabitants, and their values, priorities, and interests are quite different from the typical American and, in particular, typical American families with children who attend public school.

As PG has written previously, publishers of all sorts are controlled and managed by a group of people who are quite homogenous in their values and experiences and are atypical of American families with children who attend public school. These people ultimately control the content of traditionally-published books, school books, and a wide range of other media. He suggests that their values are also quite different from the typical American and, in particular, typical American families with children who attend public school.

If you would like to read the American Association of Publishers’ brief filed with the Federal District Court, it should be embedded below.

17 thoughts on “Capricious Actions That Cross the Line”

  1. I respectfully — ok, not too darned respectfully — suggest that Ms Pallante is a paradigmatic example of “agency capture,” in a very chicken-and-egg fashion.

    She used to be a government servant. A regulator. At the Copyright Office, where some of her anti-author-pro-transferee† decisions and advocacy bite freelancers in the butt every day. Which sort of forget that the constitutionally mandated mechanism of copyright protection (Art. I § 8 cl. 8) is to encourage Authors to create more by giving the authors more rights… not to cut off authors’ rights by subsidizing the growing collection of the Library of Congress. (See, e.g., submissions signed by Ms Pallante in the Morris, Google, and other matters that took copyrights away from freelance authors of works first published in magazines.) And then she ends up as the spokesbacterium of an organization that represents the interests only of transferees (although it purports to be pro-author, it actively suppresses author input but we’re getting into nondisparagement-clause territory…).

    This is not an ad hominem argument that “Pallante, therefore wrong.” It is a questioning of the argument from authority implied by her current position based upon her past actual, untrustworthy statements.

    † Any person, and especially any entity, that acquires the right to enforce copyright interests and exploit copyrights for financial advantage from the actual, natural-person creators. Publishers; record companies; H’wood studios; etc., etc., etc. Transferees are not protected by copyright concepts, only by contracts allowing them to step into the shoes of those protected by copyright concepts.

  2. Minor point PG: this memorandum does not appear to be directed at the Supreme Court but rather at a (federal I assume) District Court. Not understanding US law I am not sure why they can take the case to a federal court and the state Court at the same time. I’m also unsure exactly what the plaintiffs are claiming. Is it that a government entity cannot decide on a set of rules governing which books it buys (which might seem an obvious thing to do given that they cannot buy everything)?

  3. PG – you are right. They are *wildly* different. I would think, even the most liberal person would feel that there are certain things in Americans’ daily lives that should be neutral: equal application of justice and the law – and at the very least, education.

    It’s why so many people (from the Left and Right) are getting so upset about this. Washington DC “leans left” by well over 40%. That equates roughly to it being 70/30 Democrat vs. Republican in representation and constituency. (I read about that recently because it’s compared to Twitter’s population as well. As in, if Twitter were a voting district, it would loosely be like DC’s.)

    While I lean Right – I want justice, the application of law, and education – to all be “above” politics and not used as political tools. Of course, it’d be nice to have journalists do the same thing, but I’m not living in a fantasy world here. 😉

  4. …place of the publishing industry and its right to publish…

    Again, the question is who is violating the publishing industry’s right to publish? Nobody.

    There is no right of the publishers to force anyone to read what they produce. (As PG noted, there are States where the government can force school children to read what they select – a monopoly that, in my opinion, should be broken.)

  5. In our filing, we highlighted the constitutional rights of minors to receive intellectual information as well as the deep flaws in the school district’s assertion that the banned books were obscene and therefore removable.

    If the minors have a right to a Toni Morrison book, do they likewise have a right to a Hunter S Thompson book?

  6. She sort of lost me when she use the word “roll” instead of “role”. Perhaps she doesn’t know any good editors…

    She also lost me when she started in on the First Amendment. The First Amendment limits congress and protects people’s right to speak, but it does not protect a publishers right to speak through a third party such as a school library.

    Logically you could extend this argument to parents themselves – a parent who refuses to allow their child to read “The Bluest Eye” could be accused of “banning” the book, violating the publishers “freedom to publish”, and trampling the “constitutional rights of minors to receive intellectual information.”

    Good luck with this one lady.

    • The Bluest Eye is no more intense than Coriolanus or several parts of the Bible or, for that matter, Orlando Furioso and The Decameron. One might argue that it’s more, well, immediate, in that it’s easier for a contemporary reader to slip into its milieu than Shakespearified Rome; but then how is one to resolve The Diary of Anne Frank?

      It’s one thing to say “My kid isn’t ready for this work.” It’s another entirely to say “Therefore, no kids in the same age group are ready for this work.” Especially if the parent in question hasn’t read this work.

      • A dubious proposition. I can’t speak to Orlando Furioso or the Decameron, but while the Bible has an incident of incestuous rape, it does not go into graphic detail on the matter, which is what I think most parents have objected to.

        • I disagree; that modern readers of the Bible do not treat the translated-through-multiple-layers language as equivalent to modern sensibilities of “graphic” does not make that so. My point remains: The vast majority of those “objecting” haven’t read that to which they’re objecting, and certainly not using appropriate analytic tools.

          More to the point, Janis Ian understated the problem… especially once one drags the conflict between the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses into the discussion.

      • The issue is not to prevent other people’s children from reading the books in question, but to prevent their own children’s ready access to materials at the school library, where they can be read without their parents ever knowing. Most of all, regarding the issue in general, they want to ensure the materials are not part of the curriculum, i.e. required reading.

      • Especially if the parent in question hasn’t read this work.

        I suspect the librarian who ordered the book has also not read it. Why should any parent rely on the judgement of a librarian who hasn’t even read the book?

  7. Personally, I think parents do have the rights to dictate what their child can and cannot read, depending on the age. Obviously, if the child is a ‘tween or young teen (under 14), then yes, you should definitely watch/discuss a particular book that you may find objectionable with your child who may want to read it. And as they get older, you would need to tweak that conversation so that you can find out why they want to read. And depending on their maturity level, you may not even have to have that conversation.

    But as a parent, I do not have the right to dictate what other children can or cannot read. Neither does the government or any other entity. Only that child’s parent should, and only after an age-appropriate conversation with that child (if one is needed).

    • Parents are not trying to prevent other children from reading said books. They can still get them from a public library or purchase a copy. What they don’t want is ready access to materials at the school library, where their children can read them without their parents ever knowing. And especially they want to ensure the materials are not part of the curriculum, i.e. required reading.

  8. Leaving ideological matters aside for the moment, what if we look at the source?
    Look at the OP presenters.
    Both are tradpub establishment. Not exactly paragons of diversity, are they?

    What is their stake here, really?

    I’d say it is economic.
    There are 116,897 libraries in the US of which 9,057 are public libraries and 99,076 are school libraries.

    The majority of the books at issue are one and done’s which means the overwhelming majority of sales go to the libraries, at inflated library prices, not the parents at market prices. Of those, fully 90% are school libraries so if a book is found objectionable and blocked from a given state or just county, they will be losing that market. Bet you their concern is more about those lost easy sales than any ideological principle.

    You don’t see much as vitriol over Wyoming or the Dakotas as Texas, do you?

    I’d suggest they are less worried about the “right to publish” as their “god given” right to profit.


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