Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Replying to Moms for Liberty: What about These Books?

 This exchange turned up on my Twitter feed.

 I'm going to try to answer this question, because I think it's a legitimate one. 

Caveats first. Yes, the MFL tweet is kind of a non-sequitor. And yes, there are plenty of reasons to suspect that Moms for Liberty is a group at least as interested in being political players as they are in safeguarding children (e.g. this outburst at one of their events). But I'll engage with anyone who appears to be making a good faith effort to discuss issues. Also, I'm a parent, and I get the kind of gut-level nervousness that comes with entrusting your child to people who may or may not share your values. So I'm going to attempt a serious answer to what may or may not be a serious ask.

This is my reply to Moms for Liberty.

What should a parent who finds "these books" in the school library do?

Step one, in all times you're dealing with a school, is to assume good intent. Start with the assumption that the school is staffed and run by people who value children and helping them grow to be their best selves, who went into education because they did, in fact, want to teach children. If you start out with the assumption that public schools are actually a sinister conspiracy to indoctrinate children or an elaborate scam being run to fill the coffers of teachers unions, it will be hard to find any basis to move forward. 

Also, assuming ill will and searching for gotcha's will lead you to make absurd accusations. If you assume evil intent and the whole purpose of your search is to "catch them" being evil, you might as well withdraw your child and enroll in some private school now. But in general I believe that it is always better to search for understanding rather than confirmation of your already-formed beliefs, in part because you will always find confirmation, whether it's there or not.

Next. Have friends or people you trust outside your bubble with whom to check your work. I have to believe that if the lady who objected to the sexy seahorse book had turned to someone outside the group and asked if she was really seeing something objectionable or not, someone would have told her to calm down. 

If you are certain in your heart that you do not want your child exposed to a certain book, you should next check the chain of command in your local district. Probably the most common mistake made by parents with a school complaint is addressing that complaint to someone who has no power to address the complaint. So who oversees book acquisition for your school library? Is there a procedure in place to challenge a book? What the circumstances under which a child goes to the library--with a particular class, or during a study hall, or barely ever (some students go a long time without ever seeing the inside of a library)? If your circulation system is computerized, is there a way to monitor what your child checks out? Are some books in the library kept in the back room and available only on request (school libraries do this for a variety of reasons)?  Can you file a request with the librarian that your child not be allowed to have access to certain books? 

When you identify the people involved, talk to them. Make yourself available for a human conversation (e-mail and texting often lead to misunderstandings of tone in charged conversations). Share your concerns, and listen to their response. If you are unhappy with the outcome, then move up through the chain of command. 

Please note: all of the above is in reference to access to one of "these books" for your own child. When you want to ban access to the book for all students in the school, we're entering a whole new conversation. You do not like it when you feel that the school is substituting their judgment for your own parental judgment; how should your neighbors feel when you insist on substituting your own judgment for theirs?

What we've seen so far on the lists of "these books" range from books that probably cross the line for a lot of folks to books that are primarily objectionable to racists. The demands to get rid of books (e.g. I Am Rosa Parks) that are simply an accurate portrayal of historical events in which white folks did not handle themselves very well are not supportable. I'm willing to listen to someone's explanation of why they are bad for children, but I honestly cannot imagine what a good explanation would be. Some of these may very well make some children sad. It's not clear to me why that is a bad thing.

The list of "these books" has become really broad and wide, with some of it way into Chinese Communist re-education camp territory, and the longer this wrangling goes, the more conservatives are twisting themselves into pretzels trying to not look racist while still backing racist book bans. Since the new governor of Virginia won a campaign by attacking a major novel by arguably the greatest American author in recent history, I'm not confident that this is going to end any time soon.

The thing is--banning a book is huge, huge deal. Having it pulled from a school library in an attempt to keep it away from students is a huge, huge deal. Not only that, but it doesn't work. The good people of Boston banned Huckleberry Finn (too much friendliness between a white boy and a Black man), and they turned it into a best seller. I guarantee you that the books that have turned up on these current banning lists are now being sought out by the students MFL wanted to protect.

I see a huge irony in your current movement. Many of your folks are also anti-vax and anti-mask, arguing that simply letting students be exposed to the virus will not be a problem because natural immunity and their own strength will protect them. And yet when it comes to "these books," the approach is to prevent exposure at all costs. 

I taught high school and middle school English for 39 years. Students mostly grow up to be the people their parents set them up to be. Sometimes that means they grow up and hold onto their parents' values every step of the way. Sometimes they grow up and their experience leads them to move away from their parents' values because they see a world that does not match what their parents described. But books from the school library rarely, if ever, have a role in that process.

So I guess the last big step I'd offer is to trust your children. Talk to them about the books in question. If you have raised them well, with a string foundation in morals and decency, nothing they see in a book that they found in the school library is going to suddenly alter their world view. And if you have tried to raise them with a stunted, fragile worldview, nothing you can do will keep that from being shattered by the world at some point. 

As with many issues in the country, involving politicians who care far less about student well-being than about identifying an issue that can win them some votes--well, those folks are not going to help. Unfortunately, they're about to be all over this, and that's not going to help anybody. 


  1. If only those who need to read this, actually would bother to do so.

  2. Peter,
    You have put forth a reasonable and realistic appraisal of how to deal with the issue. The problem is that it's hard to be rational with some who are irrational. It has seldom worked in my years of experience.

  3. I'd love to see you try to defend this book, Gender Queer, available in VA school libraries. And if you think that restricting my kid from taking the book out will keep these very explicit pictures from being disseminated then you don't know teens as well as you think you do.
    Parents have every right to protect their children. And they shouldn't need to pay private tuition or home school in order to do so

    1. And what do you imagine banning the book from the library will do?

    2. Have you actually read the book, Mr. Backman? Or are you going on other things you've heard and read? As the article said - follow the procedure plese.

    3. If your kids are at all curious about sex, they have already seen more explicit images than this. In fact, they were photos, and they were moving, with sound (but probably muted to avoid drawing attention). So if you think that "protecting" them means preventing them from seeing this sort of thing... you've already failed, in a big way. (Fortunately, that's not what protecting kids means.)

      Additionally, those porn videos didn't have any context that would help explain them, which this book (which I've read, by the way) has a lot of: it's full of information. No kid is going to pick up this book unless it's something they want to understand, and by the time they find this book I *guarantee* you they've seen videos. (And if you don't think so, you don't know teens *at all*.)

      Teens are going to learn about sex. The only question is whether they'll learn about it from PornHub (etc) and an uncomfortable talk with you in which they're afraid to ask questions about things like this... or learn about from PornHub, that talk with you, and books like this one. Now, you may decide that your child should only learn it from PornHub and you, but what we're talking about here is everybody else's kids too. Not every kid is going to get a talk (even a one-sided one) from their parents, and by taking this book out of the library, you're deciding that their only source of info will be PornHub. Is that what you want for your prospective son-in-law or daughter-in-law?

      Protecting kids doesn't mean keeping them from encountering things. It means equipping them with the understanding to deal with the things they are likely to encounter. And for some kids – maybe a lot, maybe just a few... does it matter? – this book is what they need.

    4. Seriously though...what role does a book with very graphic pictures of blow jobs and anal sex akin to porn play in a school library? It may have a place in a public library, but I can't think of any 16 year old who needs to see that. There is a place for all books, but not all books need to be in all places. I am a mom with teen kids, one homeschooled, one in public, and I am a certified school librarian who teaches in public school. I would never want my kids to stumble on a book like this & I'd never purchase it for my school's collection any more than I'd purchase erotic fiction or other porn for teens. I just don't get defending this one...

    5. "their" children, not mine please.

  4. Thank you for this nice piece and as someone who deals with a chapter of Moms for Liberty you've given me more knowledge.

  5. You may be surprised to learn that I, a public school librarian in NY, member of this group & many others, am also a proud member of the Suffolk County NY chapter of M4L and I am 100% certain I am not the only member that is a teacher or librarian. I am right leaning, but not a "Conservative." I'm not entirely sure I fit into any political party the way they stand these days. This country is a mess. That said, these moms have very good intentions and, though I do not EVER support removing books from a school library provided they were purchased according to the collection development policy put forth by the school and/or their board of ed, I do support their right to express their concerns without being labeled as racists or crazies. M4L is made up of hundreds of thousands of parents (not just moms...) across many states and they are growing at an astounding rate. As you wouldn't generalize any other group of people, you can't paint all the members of M4L with the same brush, either. I, a public school teacher, homeschool my LGBT liberal teen daughter partly due to the crap she was learning in school...and the fact that several teachers were more interested in forcing their views down her throat and not allowing her to express or form her own opinions (that differ from mine, btw). I've done a damn good job of teaching her to think for herself, debate her views and fight for what she believes in. Teachers should be teaching kids to think for themselves, and some do, but it is way more common for teachers to be pushing their own views. I'm very tired of M4L being bashed for fighting for our kids. M4L are not the only parents who challenge books in school, this has been happening way before the group was ever formed. It's ridiculous to single them out now because of a few challenges that thankfully most often fail. Go me names now. I don't particularly care what anyone thinks of me or my views. Maybe more Librarians need to open their minds and hearts to people that think differently than they do. Most of us are not anti-vax either! We are anti-mandate! But go ahead...keep your minds closed to any views but your own. That's the true liberal way.

    1. You might try extending the same courtesy to "liberals" that you ask for yourself, and not assert try to tar them all with the same brush as "the liberal way."

    2. The problem with these 'think of the children' groups is they do not give any ideas on how children can protect themselves from sexual predators. Nor do they seem concerned with stopping bullying in all its forms. They are more concerned with using TV and books as scapegoats for bad behavior than encouraging children to speak up if others have hurt them. They never say a word when a child predator is caught, but they lose their minds when children accidentally say curse words.

  6. As a 'mom' for REAL liberty for ALL, I have read this book. My trans son also read this book, ironically from the same library it was 'found' in to complain at the school board meeting for my county. Wish i had gone to that one. But since i was verbally attacked by m4l members and others i stayed away that time.

    This book helped my son at a time of major confusion. He didnt fit it and couldnt figure out why. This book (and a few others) helped him to understand his journey. I am grateful for the authors like MK and the others who wrote and allowed us to share a small piece of their lives.

    And ironically, four years later, when this came up, i asked my son about the sex talk and/or risque photos/cartoons in this book. He was like - sex talk? Risque photos/cartoons? Where? I dont remember that. What he did remember is that it got him one step closer to understanding himself and being able to explain it to his middle aged mom (i was 49 when he came out).

    So i do agree with the author of this article, it should not be banned, because those moms are forcing their choices on me and my son.

  7. Won't someone PLEASE think of the children?!?!?!?!

  8. There is a Book that is out there that I can't BELIEVE anyone allows children to read. This Book can be found in many places. It is located in almost every reference library, is not marked as containing depraved sexual conduct, and has a misleading title. There are many section that talk about sex, or genitals in awful ways, but the worst is a part that talks about 2 sisters that get their father drunk to have sex with him and get pregnant...on purpose! How awful. No one says anything about this book being offered to children!
    What book is it? The Bible. Genesis Chapter 19, Verse 35.
    So get off your high horses on books...the very first one has lots of inappropriate content.

  9. Liberty can loosely be defined as a quality or state of being free. How is it that so many of those who espouse freedom and liberty as a goal consistently favor ideals and programs that limit freedom? Does freedom and liberty mean we should be given fewer choices as a whole, because that is what's happening. I don't agree with or enjoy all literature, but it is still my choice if I read it or not.

    Do these people find sex offensive? Is being a homosexual or trans offensive?
    Is having two mommies or 2 daddies offensive? The only thing that Moms for Liberty wants to do is restrict everyone's liberty. It's truly horrifying that we still have to deal with people like this, and even scarier is the fact that they are gaining power and influence. These are the kinds of people that watch " The Handmaid's Tale" and get excited about a dystopian future where they make the rules.