Thursday, June 13, 2024

This Is Where Attacks On Reading Take You

It seems like a minor, irony-soaked story. Erum Salam reports for the Guardian that the Indian River school district (in Florida, natch) has banned Alan Gratz's book Ban This Book. 

The book (summary here, if you've never read it) is the story of Amy Anne Olinger, a quiet 9-year-old who discovers that one of her favorite books (along with many others) has been pulled from the library because the PTA president thinks it will be harmful to children. So she creates a Banned Books Library in her locker. There are a variety of conflicts, culminating in a school board meeting at which Amy Anne and friends confront the school board and PTA president with arguments for removing every single one of the books in the library.

What the book doesn't have is any sexual elements. Nor any trace of critical race theory, and not a thing to make anyone feel they are either the victim or perpetrator of systemic discrimination. And yet, here we are...

The challenge came from Jennifer Pippin, head of the Indian River Moms For liberty chapter. She has lots of thoughts about books that should be removed from schools, including her crusade against a graphic version of Anne Frank's diary, which contains nude statues and is "not a true adaptation of the Holocaust.

But Pippin has two M4L-backed board members in Indian River, and they joined a DeSantis-appointed member to vote 3-2 in favor of extreme irony. Kevin McDonald, the DeSantis appointee, offered this explanation of why the book had to go:

The title itself and the theme challenges our authority. And it even goes so far as to not only to mention books that are deemed inappropriate by school boards, including ours, it not only mentions them but it lists them.

So, two problems. One is that it mentions the names of the forbidden books, thereby allowing students to, I guess, know those books exist (though the mentioned books include such Naughty Classics as Harriet the Spy and Juney B Jones books). Another board member had a charge as well--

This book is really just a liberal Marxist propaganda piece.

 It challenges the school board's authority! It gives students the idea that they can have a say in things or challenge adults. Goodness gracious! It must be Marxist propaganda, because only Marxist propaganda would suggest you can disagree with the People in Charge.

This is a tell of epic proportions.

There are (as I've said repeatedly) serious conversations to be had about what books are appropriate for which students at what time. But the drive to stomp children (and adults) under the thumb of Liberty Watchers reveals itself pretty quickly to be mostly about authoritarian impulse. That means--

First, they are never, ever satisfied. There never comes a day when they say, "We are satisfied that the library has removed the really concerning materials, and that there's a good policy in place to address future acquisitions, so you won't be hearing from us again." The librarians who say, "Okay, if we fold on this batch of books, then they'll be happy and go away" are doomed to disappointment. No, once they've gotten rid of the books that are 90% objectionable, they'll move on to the 80% books, and on and on and on. 

Second, authoritarians always have to defend their authority. Do not question them, challenge them, contradict them. In the case of book banners, challenging their authority can be as great an offense as putting sexual content in the library. There's nothing complicated or nuanced about it-- they have the power and you dare not challenge it.

The other layer of irony here is that Ban This Book is actually a pretty nuanced tale-- there are no blatantly evil villains, our heroine is not angel, and the book says a lot about how complicated these situations can be. But to three members of the Indian River board that doesn't matter. Like Eric Cartman, they will not allow anyone to question their authority.

And so what starts out being about books with sexual and CRT content and protecting the children ends up being about control and power and slapping down anyone and anything that challenges it. 

1 comment:

  1. Ban This Book is on the NC Battle of the Books list this year. Now our BOE wants to keep our district from participating in the program and have an alternative program with books approved by the BOE.