Saturday, June 10, 2023

Be Careful What You (Say You) Wish For

AKA: Why can't we just have the real conversation about the real issues on the table.

Legislators and advocacy groups promoting anti-inclusive bills across the country have mostly known that they shouldn't say what they want to say, so they have been saying stupid things instead. That has simply contributed to an atmosphere of blurry, shouty argument. I'm not an Ingrid Jacques fan, but she was correct when in her USA Today essay, she complained that the book ban debate has reduced the sides to "fascists" and "groomers," and this serves no one, least of all the students.

There should be plenty of room for an honest, nuanced discussion about appropriateness when it comes to the age of the reader and the content of the book. And while both sides are guilty of tossing out nuance, honesty took its first big hit when states started passing their various versions of reading restriction laws.

The laws have been spectacularly vague. Barring "instruction" about "gender identity and sexual orientation" is a law that absolutely nobody can follow. The impact of the law comes from the silent "non-heterosexual." Lawmakers wanted to ban LGBTQ stuff, but mostly they haven't had the nerve to say so. The laws can be extra chilling when any individual can charge a school or teacher with violation. That extra chill--that effect of making schools and teachers too scared to come anywhere near the fuzzy and unclear line--is only part of the desired outcome.

The citizen enforcement of these rules is to promise every hyper-conservative crank in the base that they can personally stop anything from happening of which they disapprove. So you can argue all day that the word "gay" doesn't appear anywhere in Florida's Don't Say Gay law, but at the end of the day one lady in a district can come after a teacher for screening a Disney movie that merely shows two gay characters existing--and then use that as further ammunition to against the superintendent she wants to get rid of

It's administration that ends up getting really hit. Jacques and other conservatives like to argue that Amanda Gorman's inaugural poem wasn't "banned," it was just moved out of reach of certain lower grades. But that's only because the administration held the line--the request filed by the woman asked that the book be "removed from the total environment."

The new rules aren't stupid just because they don't say what they really mean. They also, stupidly, invite "abuse" by their opponents.

Remember when, as the ink was drying on Don't Say Gay, Moms for Liberty freaked out over a supposed template for a letter being circulated by teachers?

While this letter turned out to be simply trolling, it is correct. It is the partner to the Missouri legislator who could not decide if it would be okay to refer to Martha Washington as George Washington's wife. Traditional gender roles are, in fact, gender roles. Heterosexuality is a sexual orientation. The only thing sillier than trying to ban such content is the folks who insist that they don't use pronouns.

Utah gave parents the power to get a book banned, and the immediate results were absolutely predictable. In one district, a parent has challenged the Book of Mormon. There's also considerable fuss over the banning of the Bible. The parent who called for that ban was pretty clear about his thinking:

"I thank the Utah Legislature and Utah Parents United for making this bad faith process so much easier and way more efficient," the parent said in the complaint. "Now we can all ban books and you don’t even need to read them or be accurate about it. Heck, you don’t even need to see the book!"

The writer of the law, Rep. Ken Ivory, is now thinking he needs to rework it a bit. Not, mind you, to make it less stupid, but to make it more political, by giving the final say to the elected board members instead of a separate book review committee. A world in which each new school board re-decides which books are or are not acceptable? There's no way that could end badly.

This is the oldest Dumb Political Idea in the world--invest a political power in an office without ever stopping to imagine what might happen if the other team gets ahold of that office and that power. 

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, where they've now approved a Catholic-run religious charter school, folks are lined up to walk through that door. Both the Satanic Temple and Hindu leaders have expressed their intention to join in. 

While many Oklahomans undoubtedly support charter schools sponsored by various Christian faiths, the precedent created by approval of [the Catholic charter school] application will compel approval of similar applications by all faiths, even those most Oklahomans would consider reprehensible and unworthy of public funding.

Why create these rules and laws that are so vague that they invite all sorts of consequences that their writers clearly did not desire? Why write stupid rules?

This, I'd argue, is the worst sort of politics. You don't say what you really mean, because if you do that you might get shot down. You might not get your way. So say whatever it takes, even if it's inaccurate, even if it's vague and sloppy, even if it's a lie--just so long as at the end of the process, you get to have your way. 

Bad faith just engenders more bad faith. A lack of seriousness, honesty and nuance does not make the world a better place for anyone on any team. But this is what the crafters of these laws and rules and ordinances asked for. Can't wait to see what comes next.


  1. First, it's a bit hypocritical for you to knock these laws for not being explicit when you and other liberals do so all the time. For example, on racial issues, you frequently refer to resistance to supporting pro-black policies as "Other People".
    But I understand your point. As someone famously said, I'll know pornography when I see it. These things are hard to define. But if you don't think there is a push in our schools for woke ideology, you haven't been paying attention. At my own kids elementary school, one day this big burly teacher came in wearing a dress and tiara and told kids not to call him Mr Smith but rather Princess Smith. It was just one day. But you don't think this sends a message ? At my older daughter's high school, non traditional dating including gay and polygamy are far more common than when I was a kid. There's nothing wrong with being gay. One of my best friends is gay. But I don't need this stuff being forced down the throats of my kids - especially the younger ones.

  2. Actually it's the same district in Utah that has both the Bible and Book of Mormon challenges