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The Orlando Sentinel editorial board published a statement denouncing the current zeal for censorship in schools and school libraries. (To learn about the history of book banning and censorship in American schools, read my book THe Language Police). The rising tide of book banning threatens freedom of thought, academic freedom, and common sense.
Banning and burning books is nothing new. What’s new are the targets: Books about race and racism.
In Tennessee, zealots want to get rid of a picture book by Ruby Bridges, who became the first Black student at an all-white New Orleans school when she was just 6 years old.
Among the supposedly objectionable material in “Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story” are photos that show white people holding signs that say, “We want segragation (sic),” and, “We don’t want to Integrate,” as well as another showing a young boy with a sign that reads, “We wont (sic) go to school with Negroes.”
These unacceptable images are real, historical photos illustrating a true story about a young Black girl breaking the barriers of racial segregation in the Deep South.
People of good will can make reasonable arguments about what should and should not be on public school reading lists and library shelves. Some material is too sexually explicit or too violent for some ages. Surely we can at least agree on that.
But the objections raised in Tennessee and other states, including Florida, are more about manipulating history than anything else.
In Tennessee, the objections to Ruby Bridges’ book, made by the far-right group Moms For Liberty, are objectively preposterous.
The Moms For Liberty, which has roots in Florida, told the Tennessee Education Department that “Ruby Bridges Goes to School” — as well as a book about Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington — run afoul of a new Tennessee law that restricts the way racism can be taught in public schools to ensure no one’s feelings get hurt…
Florida’s Legislature is hot on Tennessee’s heels. The Florida Department of Education handed down a muddled and confusing rule last summer that bans teaching Critical Race Theory. And Brevard County state Rep. Randy Fine has followed up with proposed law — House Bill 57 — that’s a virtual carbon copy of Tennessee’s.
The Tennessee experience with a picture book for kids provides just a taste of what Florida schools are in for should Fine’s bill passes….
Because, absurd as it might seem, Florida’s rapidly adopting the official view that racism is a relic of the past.
This is going to get worse before it gets better.