(Image via booksandbooks.com)
Arts & Entertainment Editor: Kamryn Kobel
Schools in Florida have begun to feel the effects of Governor Ron DeSantis’ book-banning legislature as they are forced to remove or cover up books within their classroom libraries.
Over the summer, Florida instituted a new bill – House Bill 1467 – which controls which books are allowed to be in schools and classrooms.
According to this bill:
“Beginning January 1, 2023, school librarians, media specialists, and other personnel involved in the selection of school district library materials must complete the online training program developed by the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) prior to reviewing and selecting age appropriate materials and library resources.”
“Each book made available to students through a school district library media center or included in a recommended or assigned school or grade-level reading list must be selected by a school district employee who holds a valid educational media specialist certificate, regardless of whether the book is purchased, donated, or otherwise made available to students.”
Until the books can be vetted by those who have undergone this “online training program,” they are either being removed from shelves or physically hidden from students.
Recently, this legislation has become a reality in classrooms throughout Florida as books have begun to disappear.
Teachers from Manatee County have shared their experiences with this forced removal of books from their classrooms.
Videos on Twitter show school library shelves that have been emptied, and as Johnathan Friedman, the director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education programs, says, “we’ve got teachers teaching on eggshells, in classrooms with no books.”
This book banning comes in close relation with recent legislation such as the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which was also signed by DeSantis, and “prohibit[s] classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels or in a specified manner.”
DeSantis also pushed the “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act, which “revis[es] requirements for required instruction on the history of African Americans,” but the bill was blocked.
The censorship of LGBT and Black voices paired with the banning of books in schools is an alarming combination that should be raising more concern – especially when considering which books have been banned in Duval County, Florida.
PEN America defines book bans as “any action taken against a book based on its content and as a result of parent or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by lawmakers or other governmental officials, that leads to a previously accessible book being either completely removed from availability to students, or where access to a book is restricted or diminished.”
And this is exactly what is happening due to DeSantis’ bills.
So far, there have been 176 books removed from classrooms in Duval County. Many of these books are from the “Essential Voices Classroom Library Collection,” a collection of books for grades K-12 that “features characters representing a variety of ethnicities, religious affiliations, and gender identities. Students will see themselves in what they read, developing an understanding and appreciation of themselves as well as others around them.”
Thus, due to House Bill 1467, these various ethnic, religious, and gender identities are being forcefully silenced as the books written by and for them are being banned from schools.
You can find the entire list of books here, but some of the titles that have been banned include:
– Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome. A book about Harriet Tubman’s life.
– The Gift of Ramadan by Rabiah York Lumbard and Laura K. Horton. A book about a Muslim family’s Ramadan traditions.
– My Two Dads and Me and My Two Moms and Me by Michael Joosten and Izak Zenou. Stories about a day in the life of a family with same-sex parents.
– Black Frontiers: A History of African American Heroes in the Old West by Lillian Schlissel. A nonfiction story about Black settlers in the Great Plains.
– Nadia’s Hands by Karen English. A story about Pakistani art and culture.
– Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders. A nonfiction story about the history of the rainbow pride flag.
The list includes other books about different ethnicities, cultures, and historical events. Many of the books were written by people of color and people from the LGBT community.
This list of banned books shows exactly which voices and stories DeSantis and his supporters wish to silence: those of minorities.
Book bans have a long, violent, and divisive history.
Throughout history, there has been a distinctive pattern of books being banned for being anti-racist, opposing religion, and challenging authority.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, was banned for being anti-slavery. Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking
Origin of Species was banned for being in opposition to religious ideas.
Both Richard II and Richard III, works of Shakespeare, were banned in England by different monarchs because they challenged their authority.
And, of course, the most glaring and horrific examples of book bannings are the 1933 Nazi book burnings.
According to The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
“On May 10, 1933 student groups at universities across Germany carried out a series of book burnings of works that the students and leading Nazi party members associated with an ‘un-German spirit.’ Enthusiastic crowds witnessed the burning of books by Brecht, Einstein, Freud, Mann and Remarque, among many other well-known intellectuals, scientists and cultural figures, many of whom were Jewish.”
The books that the Nazi Party burned were those written by Jewish authors – the very group of people that they targeted during the Holocaust.
One of the first steps of this genocide was to silence the voices of the Jewish people and erase any literature by them.
Of course, the book bans currently happening in Florida are not comparable to the Nazi book burnings, but it is important to be mindful of our history and to recognize patterns of hatred and violence.
We need to understand who is being censored, why they are being censored, and the dangers of this censorship.
Robert Simmons, a Scholar in Residence at American University, says that “they don’t want kids to learn about race and racism and violence. [Banning books] is going to have a negative effect on how our kids interact with each other, how they interact with the broader society.”
Confronting uncomfortable history is important.
If we are not uncomfortable, we are not learning. Ignoring the past doesn’t make it untrue, and ignoring issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia won’t make them go away.
We need to teach our children about our past mistakes and allow them to learn about different people and cultures so that the future can be better for everyone.
The easiest thing that you can do to fight book bans is to read the books that have been banned.
You can also get a library card to support your local library. And a great way to take direct action is to serve on your local school board.
Reject censorship. Learn about what the government doesn’t want you to.
Here is our article on the UmassD English Department’s Banned Book Library