Florida Republicans are smart. They wasted no time mounting a conservative movement to sanitize our public schools of books and discussions about race and gay and transgender existence. The 2022 Florida legislative session was all about waging these culture wars in the name of “transparency” and parental involvement in public education.
But we see through them.
Their latest iteration is House Bill 1467, approved by the legislature on Thursday. It would be easier for parents — and we suspect political groups whose members might not have children in a local public school — to challenge and ban public school teaching materials and library books.
It would also make Tallahassee responsible for compiling a list of books banned by school districts due to objection so that other districts can consider them “in their selection procedures.” It’s just our state government helping districts self-censor. After all, if a book is banned in part of the state, why risk keeping it on your shelves and becoming the target of angry parents and activists?
Public testimony heard at legislative hearings provides a glimpse of what is to come. Supporters of the bill wearing ‘Florida Parents Know Best’ T-shirts accused districts of showing ‘LGBTQ cartoon videos to kids’ without telling parents, as well as pornography and providing critical theory on race and material on “gender confusion”.
The trick is that the bill is not entirely wrong. It imposes 12-year term limits on school board members, forcing turnover and new ideas among school leaders. Critics argue that turnover happens through elections, but incumbents rarely get serious, upset challengers. Another reasonable provision requires that parents serve on school district committees that select books and meet publicly.
Democrats run for the hills shouting “Nazis!” and evoking the book burnings in Germany in 1933. Comparisons with Hitler are unnecessary and should only be reserved for actions that truly come close to the horrors of his regime.
Plus, conservatives know better than to outright ban books. Their strategy is more insidious. It won’t empty school library shelves overnight, but it will open the door to fear, self-censorship by school administrators, and activists to make life harder for school districts.
Books are the boogeyman
Florida law already prohibits pornography and content that is not age appropriate. More importantly, parental involvement is already required, as each school board must “adopt a policy regarding the objection of a parent or county resident to the use of specific instructional materials.” No books or instructional materials were challenged this year or last year in public schools in Miami-Dade County, according to the district.
Funny how it seemed to work until textbooks became a boogeyman.
HB 1467 would expand the types of books parents and residents can challenge to include those in libraries and reading lists in addition to assigned classroom materials, Sen. Joe Gruters told a Senate committee this month. Elementary schools should post on their website, in a searchable format, all books available in the school library or required as part of a reading list. These titles would be available to all members of the public, and some critics wondered why not make them available only to parents.
We think we know why.
Libraries are no longer just a parental concern, they are the battleground of the culture wars. Conservative groups across the country are trying to ban books such as ‘I am Jazz’, an autobiographical children’s picture book about a transgender teenager, and the work of Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, whose novels depict the pain of racism often through scenes that are uncomfortable to read depicting sex and sexual assault.
Unsurprisingly, the books that received the most challenges in libraries and schools in 2020 dealt with “racism, Black American history and diversity in the United States,” said an official from the American Library Association at NPR.
The bill requires employees responsible for selecting books in school libraries to complete online training provided by the Ministry of Education. The department reports to the education commissioner, a governor appointee, who has made schools a political tool, banning the teaching of critical race theory, even though districts say it’s not in their program. He managed to push another bill to ban race courses that do white kids feel awkward. DeSantis also supports the so-called “Don’t Say The Bill Is Gay” ban teaching related to sexuality and gender identity in kindergarten through grade 3.
What that formation would look like is unclear. But we can imagine how this might require librarians to avoid “critical race theory literature” (eg, a book on structural racism or white privilege).
No, this bill is not a Nazi-style book ban as the Democrats claim. But it’s not all about transparency either, as Republicans would have us believe.
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