Archives for category: Censorship

This has been a banner year for book banning.

CBS News published a brief description of the 50 most banned books this years. Most, as you will see, are about sexuality, gender and race. Parents and activists fear that children will become what they read about. They worry that reading about gay students will turn their children gay. Why would they worry that their children become racist.

This surge in censorship is a testament of sorts to the power of the written word. The peculiar thing about this crusade to ban books is that far more explicit material about sexuality and race is readily available on the internet.

Censorship of books, textbooks, even standardized tests is not new. I wrote a book called The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn. The pressure groups come from the right and the left and from groups claiming to represent the elderly, women, religious folk, and all sorts of others. Every publisher of textbooks and tests has “bias and sensitivity” guidelines, long lists of words, phrases, topics, and images that will never appear in a textbook or on a test. I have a list at the end of the book that includes more than 800 banned items.

Jack Hassard, a retired science educator, has watched Donald Trump’s actions closely and even written a book called THE TRUMP FILES.

Hassard, Jack. The Trump Files: An Account of the Trump Administration’s Effect on American Democracy, Human Rights, Science and Public Health (p. 65). Northington-Hearn Publishing LLC. Kindle Edition.

In this post, he links to an in-depth study by scholars at the Brookings Institution, who examine Trump’s efforts to overturn the Georgia election results.

Hassard prints an excerpt from the Brookings report:

The researchers who wrote the Brookings report of the Fulton County Investigation of Trump’s election interference conclude:

We conclude that Trump’s post-election conduct in Georgia leaves him at substantial risk of possible state charges predicated on multiple crimes. These charges potentially include: criminal solicitation to commit election fraud; intentional interference with performance of election duties; conspiracy to commit election fraud; criminal solicitation; and state Racketeer Influenced and
Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act violations.

Please open the link and read the rest.

The Texas Tribune reports that conservative school board candidates in some suburban districts failed with culture war issues.

School board elections: Even though school board races are nonpartisan, the Nov. 8 elections for Round Rock and Wylie independent school sistrict trustees drew high-profile endorsements from the Republican Party of Texas.

But in both districts, every candidate endorsed by the Republican Party of Texas, a total of nine, lost. In Round Rock, the races weren’t even close, with one candidate, Tiffanie Harrison, beating her opponent by 25 percentage points.

While Texas Republicans largely swept Tuesday’s elections and GOP-backed school board trustees made gains elsewhere in the state, the results in Round Rock and Wylie raise questions about the current conservative strategy in suburban school districts and the appeal of an agenda built on culture war issues.

One of the primary targets for conservatives running for school board seats has been critical race theory, a college-level discipline that examines racism within social and legal structures within the United States. It is not taught in elementary or secondary public schools in Texas, but Republicans have used the term to target how students are taught about race in schools.

Republicans leaned on a strategy modeled after one used in Tarrant County, where in May, a slate of 11 conservative, anti-CRT candidates won races in school boards. But the GOP was unable to mimic the occurrence in the midterm elections cycle.

Jill Farris, a Round Rock school board candidate endorsed by the Texas GOP who lost her race, attributed the results to a changing electorate that is more liberal than in previous years.

“Maybe we were all kind of relying a little bit on this red wave and thought that parents were just as angry as we were,” Farris said. “At least now, we know where the community stands and we can move forward.”

The Boston Globe wrote about the activities of a Dark Money group called Parents Defending Education, which has filed lawsuits against the public schools in Wellesley and Newton in their quest to ban books and cleanse the schools of teaching about racism and gender.

Maurice Cunningham wrote a letter to the Globe explaining the reason for the harassment. He thinks their goal is intimidation. He’s right. But there is more. I think their goal is to undermine confidence in public schools and build support for privatization.

He wrote:

LETTERS

In its challenges to schools, group’s object lesson is intimidation

Updated November 18, 2022, 2:30 a.m.

Moms for Liberty, represented at an event last month in Vero Beach, Fla., is among the groups associated with Parents Defending Education, which has been promoting conservative values in education and challenging school districts in court.

Re “Schools wary as nonprofit targets teaching: Right-leaning group’s complaints cite bias in lessons on gender, race, sexuality” (Page A1, Nov. 15): Parents Defending Education is an obedient franchise of right-wing interests, including Charles Koch and the Council for National Policy, that are working to destroy public education.

Legal actions such as Parents Defending Education’s civil rights complaint against the Newton Public Schools and its lawsuit against Wellesley Public Schools are meant to generate publicity and foster intimidation. As the Globe has reported previously, the group’s civil rights “complaints likely will go nowhere.” The lawsuit settled on terms favorable to Wellesley.


However, Parents Defending Education isn’t after legal recourse; it’s after harassment. Wellesley School Superintendent David Lussier said he has received “obscene” and “awful” e-mails from people connected to the group. In December 2021, the Globe reported that two Black school principals in Newton had received “racist and confrontational” messages after the right-wing publisher Breitbart published an article misrepresenting how the principals’ schools were handling lessons about the verdicts in the trials of Kyle Rittenhouse and the men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery. Breitbart’s story was framed by Parents Defending Education.

Racist and obscene messages menacing educators are not an unfortunate consequence of Parents Defending Education’s machinations; they are entirely foreseeable.

Maurice T. Cunningham

Cambridge

The writer is the author of “Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.” He is a retired associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a former state assistant attorney general in Massachusetts.

When Florida Governor Ron DeSantis won re-election, he declared that Florida is the state where WOKE goes to die. By WOKE, he means any teaching about racism that makes white students uncomfortable. Teaching anti-racism is WOKE.

Well, WOKE isn’t dead yet.

A federal judge ruled yesterday that the WOKE act is “dystopian” and banned its enforcement in higher education.

A federal judge on Thursday ordered Florida to stop enforcing its new Stop WOKE Act at the state’s public colleges and universities.

The ruling came in two lawsuits — one filed by a University of South Florida student and professor and another led by Florida A&M law professor LeRoy Pernell — both alleging that the law illegally prevents frank discussions about the nation’s racial history in classrooms. The same judge issued a ruling in August that blocked the law from applying to workplace training.

The legislation prohibits advancing concepts that make anyone feel “guilt, anguish or other psychological distress” related to race, color, national origin or sex because of actions “committed in the past.” It is also tied to proposed regulations that would govern tenure reviews of faculty members.

Professor Adriana Novoa and student Sam Rechek, both from USF, argued the law was unconstitutional. The state countered that it has not harmed the plaintiffs and does not prohibit some of the discussions of the race-related topics mentioned in the lawsuit.

In Pernell’s lawsuit also challenging the act, the same defense lawyers wrote that because faculty members are employees of the state, “the First Amendment simply has no application in this context” because their employer “has simply chosen to regulate its own speech.”

Adam Steinbaugh, a lawyer for the Foundation for Individual Rights Expression, said the ruling was important for faculty of all political persuasions — including those who may have favored the Stop WOKE Act. The foundation is representing Novoa and Rechek.

The ruling “recognizes that faculty members are hired by the state but they don’t speak for the state,” Steinbaugh said. “They’re hired to engage in the robust exchange of views and ideas. Some of those views and ideas are going to be ones the state doesn’t like.”

In his 139-page order issuing a preliminary injunction against the law, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker quoted George Orwell. “‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,’ and the powers in charge of Florida’s public university system have declared the State has unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of ‘freedom,’ ” his ruling said.

He wrote that the state was trying to argue that professors only had academic freedom if they expressed the viewpoint of the state. “This is positively dystopian,” he wrote.

In a statement, USF said, “We are carefully reviewing the order and will promptly update our guidance, as needed.”

University of Florida Provost Joe Glover said the school was suspending its investigation procedures for reported violations of the law. The State University System said it does not comment on pending litigation. And the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who pushed the law, did not respond to requests for comment.

Steinbaugh, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said he expects the state to appeal Walker’s ruling.

Novoa contended that she would have to remove readings from her courses, such as one about Jackie Robinson, the first Black man to play in baseball’s major leagues. A court filing said her instruction “advances and engages the question of how baseball’s racial past continues to shape both the game and society today.” In its response, the state contended that the act applied to the present, not historical fact.

Faculty in the Pernell case alleged universities had been taking down “public-facing statements that espoused anti-racist principles” and canceling anti-racist trainings, “creating a climate of increased racial hostility and harassment” and “generating fear among plaintiffs and other Black instructors and students who teach or take coursework in which the viewpoints disfavored by the Legislature are likely to be discussed.”

DeSantis first unveiled the framework for the law in December 2021 as he ramped up his fight against the influence of critical race theory and “wokeness” in schools and businesses across the state. Its formal name is the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act.

During the 2022 legislative session, the measure spurred fierce debates and criticism, particularly from Democrats and Black lawmakers who said it would exacerbate inequities faced by minorities. The law took effect July 1.

Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article268882172.html#storylink=cpy

Our reader Jersey Joe added this postscript from The Guardian about the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania:

From the guardian, 10-24-22: quote – Doug Mastriano, a retired army colonel who has enthusiastically indulged Donald Trump’s fantasy that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, is the Republican candidate. If he wins, he plans to deregister every single one of Pennsylvania’s 8.7 million voters. In future elections, Mastriano would choose who certifies – or doesn’t – the state’s election results. [snip] As a state senator in Pennsylvania, he said women who violated a proposed six-week abortion ban should be charged with murder. Mastriano frequently attacks trans people, and has said gay marriage should be illegal, and that same-sex couples should not be allowed to adopt children. end quoteThe man is a far right wing nightmare determined to end democracy in this country. According to these maniacs, elections are fair and valid only if the GOP wins.

Thanks to Christine Langhoff for sharing this horrifying video.

It shows parents at Grant Middle School in Grant, Michigan, demanding the removal of a mural painted by a high school student. The mural was meant to make all students feel welcome.

But parents saw frightening symbols in it, such as a T-shirt that was a trans symbol, another that was a gay symbol, others graphics that were allegedly demonic or Satanic.

This country needs mental health services for adults who think that their children’s lives will be changed by seeing anything that offends parents. Do they object to textbooks showing the swastika? Really, there are many symbols to at could be interpreted in many ways.

Don’t they understand that children are shaped above all by their home environment?

Political battles over book are heating up in Missouri. This seems to be the right time to ban books like 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Slaughterhouse Five. Will Fahrenheit 451 be banned too? Why is it missing?

The Missouri law on banning books was enacted in August. Missouri law 775 sets the guidelines, starting on page 51. The law prohibits books with visual representations of sexual activity a.k.a. pornography. It is a very specific definition.

Legislators visual representations only (not “art” or “anthropological”). They lost the CRT battle and needed something like this in law. They avoided the battle over the written word and content, just pictures. Graphic novels took the hit. Teachers and any school adult can be charged for distributing a censored book.

The conservative strategy is get the door open for book banning and then it will swing wide open to written word and content this year.

Below are four articles – St. Louis Post Dispatch (with lists) and KC Star

Of course, there were no guidelines from the State.

Sept 27 https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/kirkwood-parents-speak-out-against-book-bans/article_2c3dc6bd-2dd2-58a9-9d4c-30d48ec81e1a.html

KIRKWOOD — About 15 parents and students spoke out Monday against the Kirkwood School District’s recent book bans, including a comic book adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984,” the cautionary tale about government mind control.

At least 114 book bans have been enacted in schools across St. Louis this fall in response to a new state law prohibiting “explicit sexual material” — defined as any visual depiction of sex acts or genitalia, with exceptions for artistic or scientific significance — provided to students in public or private schools.

Sept 25    https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/suburban-school-districts-in-st-louis-area-more-likely-to-ban-books-under-new-law/article_db89ae4d-f559-56e7-929a-8b1af4c374d5.html#tracking-source=in-article   

‘Handmaid’s Tale,’ ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’: KC area schools now ban these books and more BY SARAH RITTER UPDATED OCTOBER 03, 2022 9:39 AM

https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/education/article266556371.html#storylink=cpy

ST. LOUIS — The 97 books banned in schools across St. Louis this fall cover topics like anatomy, photography and the Holocaust. There are books that are also popular TV series, including “Game of Thrones,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Walking Dead” and “Watchmen.”

And as life imitates art, Kirkwood School District banned a comic book adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984,” the cautionary tale about government mind control.

Aug 25  https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/blythe-bernhard-on-the-new-state-law-impacting-school-librarians-inside-the-post-dispatch/article_5e824824-818a-5706-96fd-9306231e7664.html#tracking-source=in-article

JEFFERSON CITY — With a new crop of hard-right Republicans expected to join the Missouri Senate, some Democrats are worried that the upper chamber’s priorities will swing more to the right in the next legislative session.

Conservative wish list items such as bans on transgender student athletes and legislation that targets school curriculum have failed to pass in previous years amid infighting among Republicans. But Senate Democrats say those policies could have enough momentum in the coming years with more hard-right members joining the upper chamber.

For months now, a handful of books dealing with LGBTQ themes have been targeted by Kansas City area conservative parent groups and politicians.

Conservative groups have demanded the removal of books on LGBTQ themes from public school libraries, but the censorship is expanding to other titles that someone finds objectionable. The Handmaid’s Tale, for example, has no LGBTQ content. It’s about a dystopian society in which women have no rights. But it’s being pulled from library shelves, and librarians are facing stiff fines if they defy the law.

But facing a new Missouri law, some schools have now removed a much wider array of books from library shelves, including “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Watchmen” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The law, which bans sexually explicit material from schools and went into effect in late August, is tucked into a larger bill addressing sexual assault survivors’ rights. Librarians or other school employees who violate the law could be charged with a misdemeanor, risking up to a year in jail or a $2,000 fine.

In response, several school libraries have pulled at least 20 book titles in districts on the Missouri side of the Kansas City metro, according to reports provided to The Star through open records requests.

The legislation specifically prohibits images in school materials that could be considered sexually explicit, such as depictions of genitals or sex acts. As a result, most of the banned books are graphic novels. The law does provide some exceptions, such as for works of art or science textbooks.

Proponents argue the legislation will protect children from inappropriate content and indoctrination. “In schools all across the country, we’ve seen this disgusting and inappropriate content making its way into our classrooms,” state Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said in a statement after the legislation passed. “Instead of recognizing this as the threat it is, some schools are actually fighting parents to protect this filth. The last place our children should be seeing pornography is in our schools.”

But others warn that such bans violate students’ First Amendment rights and mainly target books that feature LGBTQ relationships, people of color and diverse viewpoints.

“You don’t see people trying to ban any books that are on the far conservative end. So I think at this point, what we’re seeing is a kind of protracted political strategy,” said Joe Kohlburn, chair of the Missouri Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. “It feels very targeted to folks who identify as LGBTQ, or (people of color) or women. If you see your library is removing ‘Handmaid’s Tale,’ that tells you something very specific. And I don’t think that’s an accident.”

Before the bill’s passage, conservative politicians, action committees and parent groups in the Kansas City metro spearheaded challenges to school library books, mostly featuring racially diverse or LGBTQ characters. It’s a trend seen across the country, with the American Library Association reporting that the number of attempts to ban or restrict books this year is on track to exceed last year’s total, which was the highest in decades.

Librarians have raised concerns over harassment, with some questioning whether to stay in their jobs. Tom Bastian, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, called the book challenges an attempt to “whitewash viewpoints and perspectives of historically marginalized communities.”

Read more at: https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/education/article266556371.html#storylink=cpy

Blogger-teacher Steven Singer lists five big lies about public schools that Republicans are pushing.

Be it noted that he leaves out a sixth big lie about public schools: some GOP nuts claim that public schools are putting litter boxes in classrooms for students who say they are cats. No one has identified a classroom where this has happened, but why should facts get in the way of propaganda?

Singer begins:

Critical race theory, pornographic school books, and other bogeymen haunt their platforms without any evidence that this stuff is a reality.

Doug Mastriano, the GOP nominee for Governor of Pennsylvania, actually promises to ban pole dancing in public schools.

Pole dancing!

“On day one, the sexualization of our kids, pole dancing, and all this other crap that’s going on will be forbidden in our schools,” he says.

Mr. Mastriano, I hate to tell you this, but the only school in the commonwealth where there was anything like what you describe was one of those charter schools you love so much. The Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School in Philadelphia used to run an illegal nightclub in the cafeteria after dark.

But at authentic public schools with things like regulations and school boards – no. That just doesn’t happen here.

Maybe if your plan to waste taxpayer dollars on universal school vouchers goes through you’ll get your wish.

Singer goes on to list the following five lies:

1. Teaching boys to hate themselves.

2. Teaching kids to be gay.

3. Teaching kids to be trans.

Open the link to read about the other two.

They are all smears, lies, and propaganda.

Paul Bowers is a journalist in South Carolina who blogs at “Brutal South.” This post is a story of a young person who realized he was transgender. He wrote an essay about his discovery that was published in Scholastic magazine. Two years later, a substitute gym teacher in South Carolina handed out the essay for his class to read. This act created a major scandal, and before long, the governor of the state got involved and demanded censorship of the essay. Bowers interviewed the author of the essay for this post.

Politicians have tried to whip up the issue of transgender youth as a menace to society. The most current survey suggests that about 1.4% of youth 13-17 identify as transgender. About 0.05% (half of one percent) of adults identify as transgender. These numbers have remained stable over time.

Bowers writes:

At the start of 7th grade, Leo Lipson emailed his teachers letting them know about a change in his pronouns.

Writing about his experience growing up transgender in New York, Leo had this to say:

When I asked my teachers for help, they told me I needed to teach my classmates about gender. I thought, “Aren’t you supposed to be the teacher?” I guess they saw gender as my thing, something they couldn’t explain.

Leo’s essay, “I Am Leo,” ran in the December 2019 / January 2020 issue of Scholastic’s Choices magazine, a classroom publication for grades 7-12. It was a fine personal essay that broke down a complicated subject in simple terms.

As far as I can tell, Leo’s article didn’t make many waves until Sept. 9, 2022, when a substitute physical education teacher at a public middle school on James Island, South Carolina, handed out copies of the article to a class (it might have been the entire magazine issue; I’m not certain based on local news reports). The teacher also handed out a worksheet of questions testing students’ basic comprehension. It was an ungraded assignment.

Eleven days later, the assignment earned an official rebuke and press release from the Republican governor of South Carolina.

“I call on [Charleston County School District]’s Board of Trustees to take action immediately to prohibit these types of instructional materials from being distributed or utilized in the classroom without parents’ knowledge and consent,” Gov. Henry McMaster wrote in an open letter to the school board chair on Sept. 20.

Here we had the highest elected official in South Carolina nitpicking a single assignment handed out by a substitute gym teacher. The governor demanded censorship, and he got it: Leaning on South Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ+ sex education policies, a school district spokesperson said in a prepared statement, “District staff regrets that this matter occurred, and leaders are working to ensure all staff is reminded of parents’ opportunity to opt their children out prior to sensitive materials being shared with students.”

Now the issue is a big deal in the state. Parents are being frightened into thinking that the schools are trying to turn their children transgender. Republicans are busy scaring parents and passing laws to make sure that students never learn that transgender people exist.

To be effective, they will have to monitor their television watching and take away their cell phones. If knowing about the existence of transgender people turned people transgender, there would be many more than half a percent to 1.4%.

Open Blowers’ post to read his interview with Leo, who is now 19.