Censorship Has Been Alive Forever. It’s at Fever Pitch Today.

From BookRiot:

There are a lot of bad takes this week on the whys and hows of the growing firestorm of book challenges. I’m not going to link to them, but the reality is this isn’t new, media that’s reporting on “firsts” for any area are behind the curve by months (thanks, death of local journalism), and no, it’s not school boards who are willy nilly banning books. These complaints are coming from grown adults who may or may not live in a community and more often than not, they’re aligned with right-wing groups funded by a lot of dark money. Moms of Liberty — currently putting a bounty on teachers who talk about systemic racism — is but one of many of such groups across the United States, typically spearheaded by a failed or hopeful politician. They share information across public and private social media tools (here’s a great example of an extremist group gearing up their followers to at protest one school board meeting this week). These groups put board members in a position of being on the defense, and in many cases board members need to be escorted to their vehicles after a meeting because their literal safety is at risk.

Are there folks on the inside starting these censorship calls? Sure. But the vast majority are not, and in a not-insignificant number of cases lately, the adults who are complaining aren’t parents of students in the district.

. . . .

Something else to be aware of: the same groups that are pushing anti-antiracism with their anti-“CRT” movement that conveniently includes anyone who isn’t straight, too, is going to start coming hard for mental health. They’re already protesting social emotional learning, and the next logical step is the books that talk about mental health. (This is, of course, the same groups that complain students are miserable and why won’t anyone help them. The fault lies, conveniently, in mask mandates or virtual learning or any other anti-science scapegoat).

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Per his usual practice, PG will remind one and all that he doesn’t necessarily agree with everything he posts on TPV.

With respect to the OP, PG is of the opinion that not every decision that school boards, private schools, teachers, etc., regarding books they select for students to read is automatically a correct decision because of the power or authority that such groups and individuals possess or the role they play in a school or community. PG speaks as the son of one public school teacher, the brother of another and the husband of a former college instructor.

While civilized societies can reasonably place limits on some decisions parents may make that affect their children, the history of harmful use of force, physical or otherwise, by state state actors regulating what may be said or read or what may not be said or read is not read is a dark one.

At least during the past few years in the United States, more than a few groups of people who disagree with others have adopted a pattern of personal attacks on those who don’t think as they think. This same pattern of behavior has included over-the-top characterizations of social or political opponents.

Historically, true Censorship was imposed by government agencies on a population or group. In our time, censorship has involved prohibitions that limited the ability for social dissidents to express opposition or disagreement with the powers that exercised control over them.

As such, PG suggests that groups of individuals who object to books they find harmful or offensive being used by a government-sponsored entity for the education of the children of the dissenters doesn’t qualify as censorship.

Instead, such objections are a protest against the imposition of ideas and values to which the protesters strongly object being imposed on their children by an organization and individuals who possess and exercise a great deal of power over the children of the protesters. If a state requires mandatory or quasi-mandatory attendance of children in specified types of educational institutions, that qualifies as state action.

For the record, PG thinks mandatory attendance of children at public schools is a generally good idea, assuming that parents who feel strongly enough about the topic to take on the responsibility of educating their children outside of the public school system.

While education outside of formal public or private schools can go badly wrong, so can education of at least some children in formal schools can also contribute to the same end for a child.

As only a slight diversion, PG is not aware of whether this is happening elsewhere or not, but over the past ten or fifteen years, homeschooling of children has been a growing phenomenon in the United States. A bit of quick online research indicates that an estimated 3-4% of school-age children were being homeschooled.

It interests PG that an outsized percentage of homeschooled contestant have advanced to the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee over the past several years. The 2021 Spelling Bee winner was a 14-year-old homeschooled African-American girl from New Orleans.

20 thoughts on “Censorship Has Been Alive Forever. It’s at Fever Pitch Today.”

  1. Once upon a time…

    That sounds like it belongs in a school library, right? Well, listen up, because it’s actually about the school library.

    (1) … a newly-elected school board member presented a list of eight books she wanted removed from all of the school libraries. The list was placed on the agenda for the next board meeting. A group of seniors, all of whom had committed to joining the military after graduation, each stood up and proclaimed that their “willingness to accept authority” had not been harmed by reading the first book on the list, alphabetically by author. After considerable further debate, the Board voted 3-2 against removing the books; apparently, it was not a pleasure to burn, at least not that night. Said school board member never did learn that “irony” is not just like “goldy” and “bronzy” but made out of iron; she tried again each year until she lost reelection three years later.

    (2) … a right-thinking (and Right-thinking, but that’s for another time and mired in the depths of politics in East Central Redneckistan) pastor convinced several families of in his congregation to put forth a petition to remove a list of a dozen books from both the high-school library and from even optional use in advanced-placement classes (even though those books were specified by the respective national accreditation groups for the exams as appropriate for study). Sadly, this was in the city that hosted the National Council of Teachers of English and one of the most-prestigious graduate education colleges in the nation. They further sabotaged matters by having most of their “spokespersons” be from outside the school district — and not having read the books in question. Their reaction to finding out that Romeo and Juliet is actually about very early teen sex (one wonders what their reaction might have been to knowing that Juliet was usually played by an apprentice male actor until the mid-eighteenth century), and to reading into the record a portion of the Song of Solomon in a scholarly translation and not the King James, was enlightening in itself. Now there’s some pornography!

    * * *

    I’m one of the last people you want to irritate by advocating censorship. I was in the UK in the 1980s, and brought in copies of a book published by The Consortium for all of my friends and colleagues. Because it was directly related to my profession and specific duties at the time. And yes, I really do expect people to go figure that out — because that’s part of my point.

    • About Romeo and Juliet: the past is alien.
      Pearl clutching over past mores and customs (often founded in *their* realities) achieves as much as sneering at the presentists. It happened. Hopefully it won’t happen again.
      But I wouldn’t bet against it: collapse and reset is always an option.

  2. This is an issue without clear lines, allies and enemies, and a right and a wrong way to think/act.
    Should states set the standards/curriculum? That’s the rule in every state that I’m aware of.
    Should school boards direct the activities of the schools/administration/teachers/staff in their district? Sure. But, those board members really do need to keep in mind the ultimate responsibility for the education of children is their parents. If the practices of the schools are in conflict with the community standards (and, every community has them – open or unspoken), the board may get criticism, protest, and, ultimately, tossed out of office (either by voters in an election, or by other actions – targeting behind the scenes corruption, improper funding, or actions that would constitute a crime. If those board members are acting in concert with political partisans, that’s fair game for exposure.
    Are parents always right? Of course not. However, it must be said that, generally, the parents claim to have their children’s best interests at heart seems to be both reasonable and justifiable.
    I’m a retired science teacher. I have sometimes had pushback about my teaching/grading practices. I have no problem explaining them to parents or administrators. But, I’ve never veered from my focus on teaching SCIENCE. I don’t get into politics. I stay away from infusing discussions of racism, sexism, or other politically charged topics into what I teach.
    The main reason is that I barely have time to get through all the objectives of the courses I teach. Adding in non-essential topics takes away from that time.
    Do I try to broaden the understanding of my students to include minorities/women in science? Absolutely. I have also worked to provide guidance and mentoring to those students.
    But, any such introduction of those topics has to fit into my overall syllabus. I just can’t justify it otherwise.
    Now, there are teachers who see it as their goal to focus on CRT-type issues – systemic racism, underlying causes of economic disparity, and other such issues. I’m not such a big fan of most of those lessons, as they assume that EVERYONE will, of course, agree on the necessary solutions (unless they are a horrible person).
    Such a focus doesn’t take into account that, in nearly EVERY examination of a time period, there are multiple explanations for how, and why, things happened. No, the “facts” are not all on one side.
    Do the White people who participated in the American slavery system bear the blame for their part? Absolutely. The fact that slavery was (and is) common throughout the world, and did not JUST include Black people, doesn’t give them a pass on that.
    Do the Black people who were involved in that slavery system bear some blame for their actions? Yes, they do. The guy who first got the courts to agree that some people could be held as lifetime slaves was Black. It’s a really strange story – https://face2faceafrica.com/article/the-fascinating-story-of-anthony-johnson-the-black-man-who-was-the-first-to-own-a-slave-in-the-u-s
    Did SOME White people join together with Black people to end slavery? Sure. I have ancestors who fought for the Union in the Civil War, as do many Americans.
    Are SOME White (and Black) people involved in ending slavery today? Sure.
    Are SOME White (and Black) people ignoring modern-day slavery taking place? Absolutely – the actions of many celebrities and athletes, cooperating with those engaging in slavery/genocide/abuse, is reprehensible.
    But, all of those above actions are INDIVIDUAL decisions, that don’t impose guilt on every descendant, or on those who share a skin color with them.
    And, to require teachers to spew blame in very specific and racially directed ways is wrong.
    The same is true with a lot of the rest of the rhetoric of The Left. It is not intended to improve the lives of those they claim are victims. It’s to capture and reinforce The Left’s hold on power.
    As a teacher, not my job to help them. As a human, not my responsibility to assist.

    • Very well put, Linda!

      Now, if I were a science teacher at the high school level, with a free hand, I would devote at least some time to ethical questions and science. I’d touch on things like Tuskegee, Mengele, Lysenko, possibly phrenology. Also on the “politically sensitive” things of today, like Fauci and company or Mann and company (free hand, remember). Plus, something on the matter of when there is only a “Solution Unsatisfactory” – when the question is not what science is done, but who will get the benefit of it.

      Not a huge amount, maybe a week of class time at the most – but I wouldn’t want to ignore it.

      • And, in fact, I did – when appropriate – bring in ethical issues found in science.
        However, I was careful to point out that VERY few of these events were One Side Good, One Side Bad. People will justify – rightly or wrongly – their decisions. Still do today.
        For example, there are those that are FURIOUS at Fauci for being involved in the torture of dogs in science experiments. And, yet, many of those same people will gloss over the harvesting of organs from aborted fetuses – even if they were targeted for harvest even before deliberately killed (you may argue about that word usage).
        Very little of life’s ethical dilemmas is clear-cut.

        • However gray, an ethical issue is very rarely evenly so, and changes over time – usually to the black.

          The early use of fetal cell lines from abortions, by researchers who had no influence over whether those murders would happen, is towards the “white” side of the issue. Especially in studies about potential mutagens, they were invaluable. However, when such lines became available from techniques that produced them by ethical means (from umbilical cords), the continued use of the early lines is an immoral practice.

          The atomic bomb is a horrible thing. However, those who worked on it at Los Alamos, nor those who used them, are not to be blamed – it was not a matter of whether it would be developed, it was a matter of which side. If it had been developed earlier, I have little doubt that, for example, the Caucasians in Munich and Hamburg would have been incinerated. (Whether the Japanese would have folded without direct experience, I truly don’t know, though.) The alternative was risking the same treatment for New York or perhaps London. There was no third option that wasn’t even more reprehensible.

          • Dresden got effectively nuked without radiation.

            Japan would have gotten the same treatment.
            (4kilotons of TNT vs 15kilotons wasn’t that much of a difference to tbe dead.)
            Whether one bomb or ten thousand it was going to get hammered.

            Truman’s choice wasn’t about japanese getting killed but about americans *not* getting killed.
            Different times, different conditions.

            • “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind”

              Dresden was partly revenge and partly because we had to do something with these huge fleets of bombers.

              Tokyo was also revenge – and hatred – plus a hope of terrorizing the Japanese into surrender. More tomates the white end than Dresden.

    • Separate reply here, because it is on a different tack.

      I think that the major problem with school boards these days is that they have the insulation inherent in being far too large – the failing of most government institutions.

      Unified school districts, with thousands of students and extremely large numbers of different and competing parent concerns, are mostly immune to the concerns of even large numbers of parents because they, like large governments, can pit the “commoners” against each other. Leaving the school board free to implement whatever ideology they consider to be “correct” – to Hell with the parents (and students).

      • Not only are they too large, but the non-teaching staff is, as well. While having the ability to manage payroll, purchases, and such centrally might be appropriate, much of the decision-making should be more local.
        For that matter, individual schools/clusters would be better served by outsourcing most of the work (food service, buses, security, and cleaning/repair) to outside vendors. If they don’t measure up, the contract can be cancelled.

      • Contrary to how the media reports on the matter, the divide isn’t red vs blue at all. It is an issue that crosses political tribes and, in fact, impacts middle class independents the most. It is involved parents vs the hands off parents; parents who want to outsource child rearing vs the ones who want to guide their kids themselves. And they can’t all home school or afford a responsive private school.

        Add to that tbe federalization of curricula and staff (via the “union” of school board admins) and the schoolboards moving to a one size fits all approach country wide that overrides parental judgment calls on what the kids should learn, when.

        Unavoidably, what is acceptable, even preferred, in downtown DC is not going to fly in Northern Virginia. To say nothing of Texas, Nebraska, or Florida. Or even the blue state suburbs. Bad enough most people have little say in what governments (red or blue) inflict on tbem, the homogenization of schools is bringing the culture wars literally into their homes. That is one move too many.

        Given the Great Sorting of the last 50 years this reckoning was unavoidable.

  3. and no, it’s not school boards who are willy nilly banning books. These complaints are coming from grown adults who may or may not live in a community and more often than not, they’re aligned with right-wing groups funded by a lot of dark money.

    Left wing school boards choose books and put them in the schools. Right wing parents groups object to the books and attempt to remove them.

    We could change sides by electing right wing school boards who would put books in schools that left wing parents groups would then obect to.

    Each side can then decry the censorship of the other.

    • Your error is in claiming that there are two sides to the debate – the “Left” and the “Right.”

      There are two sides, but they are the “Ideologists” and the “Sane.”

      The “Sane” believe in a few things.

      First, pornography, whatever the inclinations of the characters are, does not belong in schools. The sexual mores of children are not the business of the State in any way, shape, or form.

      Second, actual racism, whoever the target of such is. A work that assumes that all members of a race are virtuous, or evil incarnate, should not be in schools. Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, a realistic work based on growing up black in 1960s Watts or 1950s Birmingham – acceptable.

      Third, gratuitous violence and criminality. Social mores are something that should be reinforced by education, from both the school and the parents.

      “Non-fiction” (in quotes, because much of it is fictional these days):
      Only one thing, truth. The “1619 Project” does not belong in schools; it is full of fabrications to encourage division along racial and ethnic lines. The same for Henry Ford’s “The International Jew,” or “Mein Kampf.” Such books, with a great deal of care, could be treated in the classroom at the high school level, to point out their many flaws and as examples to (hopefully) condition the student to apply true critical thinking to such garbage once they are out in society. But not just willy-nilly placed on a school library shelf.

      The only objections in the current fracas that I have seen from the so-called “Right Wing” parents have been about fiction that is pornography, and “non-fiction” that is hate mongering fabrication.

  4. Whenever I see someone accuse their ideological opponents of being secretly funded by shadowy cabals, I tend to immediately tune them out.

    Also, the idea that it is censorship to suggest that students not be required to read certain books will never cease to amuse me. What, we are to assume that teachers and school boards are infallible and if you oppose them you must be an racist/prudish/sexist/homophobic meany-head?

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