Books and Censorship

According to family lore, I read my first book around the age of three (3). Spoiler alert, it wasn’t really reading, I’d just memorized some of the books that my parents read regularly aloud. Since the books were written in iambic pentameter and had colorful pictures to go along with the text, it was easier to retain. But the point of that story is that I have loved to read for a very long time. Some of my most precious memories is of being read to — those are books that I’ll always remember. If you follow me on Goodreads, you’ll easily see that I read a variety of books from all kinds of different genres.

Reading has always given me a window into other worlds, a way to set aside whatever is going on in real life and experience something different. Even if some or a lot of what I’ve read is a bit improbable, the ability to suspend reality and just immerse myself in the mind of the author is a skill I’ve learned to employ and greatly enjoy. Those skills I’d learned reading made getting an English degree more enjoyable than work and certainly helped with all of the reading and analyzing necessary in law school and afterwards.

Every book that I’ve read had become a part of me and how I view the world.

Now that I have kiddos, watching them learn to read and begin to experience other perspectives has been amazing. Having the ability to discuss books and read books with them has been the very definition of fun. While neither of my kiddos love to read as much as I do, reading with them has meant that we can have conversations about topics that might be harder to bring up otherwise as well as learning how their minds work. I confess blowing their minds with new and innovative concepts through different books is much more fun than I’d anticipated.

One thing that is very different for my kiddos than when I was their age a few decades ago is the breadth of access. While I had to physically go to a library to obtain a book (and still really like reading physical books), my kids can access nearly everything online. We’ve done our best to guide our kiddos into safe spaces online and also to help them process the images or verbiage they encounter, learning from what our parents did or didn’t do that worked or didn’t work. Having so much information at their fingertips and being adept at finding information can be both a blessing and a curse.

In my view, as a parent, it is our responsibility to be a part of creating a safe space for our kiddos to encounter topics/concepts/ideas and figure them out. In my view, it is better for my kiddos to read authors that get them to think, to stretch their minds, and be available to help them process that information than to restrict information. In my view, even though we are all affected by our peers, knowing that there are trusted adults available, willing and able to participate with the written word is key. Sure, there are developmental limits and we’re still figuring some of that out.

House Bill 1467, signed by Governor DeSantis on March 25, 2022, and effective July 1, 2022, requires each classroom teacher in the Florida public school system to document publicly what books are physically located in their classrooms. In my interpretation, this effort is literally to ensure that people who want to object to book(s) or to ask for book(s) to be banned by the school system now have the ability to target those efforts towards particular schools/classrooms. And it’s already happening — I’ve seen some really disturbing pictures online of how many books have pulled from classrooms all over Florida already, many because of complaints filed by constituents who aren’t even parents.

Here’s how it works on the ground, at least here in Orange County (Central Florida) …

The beleaguered media center employees were tasked with working with the teachers to make the lists of all the books in each classroom and then take responsibility going forward to ensure that those lists are up to date. In addition to the many many things each media center employee is already handling, this new task is gigantic. Different schools handled this task differently and within our school system, the teachers reached out to parents for help. I personally spent hours in various classrooms working on scanning in bookcases of books to assist teachers in documenting their libraries so that this task didn’t encroach on teaching or their personal time.

Our teachers and other staff are quite simply overworked and underpaid; while I have no issue with parents being a part of the process, it is appalling how much help is needed so that these vital and necessary professionals can focus on actually teaching. Seriously, outside of librarians (or perhaps their children) who actually has a list of their physical books? My kiddos are in 2nd and 4th grade as I type this post in 2023. Seeing the difference in the number and size of books between 2nd and 4th grade makes me cringe to think of how many are in the classrooms of higher grades.

This latest effort to restrict the information presented to children in public school in Florida is pretty baffling to me. Just like how some people want to prevent critical race theory or diversity issues or gender information from being taught in public school, now the very books that teachers are working so hard to get students to read are under attack. And why? Does anyone really think that the information isn’t readily available online?

I absolutely believe that what and how information is provided in the classroom is important. And that some people have agendas. In all the years I’ve been in and out of the classroom, I’ve had a variety of different teachers. Many of them had agendas, some I realized at the time and some only in hindsight. Regardless, I learned something important from each and every one.

Here’s the bottom line for me — education is not just about memorizing facts. It’s not just about dates and labeling the parts of a dissected pig. Education is about learning to learn and learning to think. It doesn’t help any society to have drones or to create clones. What keeps any group of people vibrant and growing is to teach the next generation to think, to innovate, to take what they know and take it further.

If we take away those books that stretch the minds of students, that encourage them to look through the eyes of another and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, to try on a way of thinking to see if it resonates, we deprive them of something precious. I don’t always agree with what I read; but the act of reading, of pondering, of considering means something. It means everything if we are to grow as human beings.

The moment we as a society decide it is acceptable to restrict knowledge, we’ve lost. How much we lose as a whole, how much we suffer for it, that remains to be seen. For me, I’ve located a few lists of banned books and we’re systematically working our way through those lists, discussing and dissecting them as we go. And I’m loving every second of it.

20 thoughts on “Books and Censorship

  1. Abigail, this is an excellent, clear, cogent response to book banning—all the more effective because of its controlled, understated tone. Not for the first time, I ask you to consider seeking an audience beyond your blog—a newspaper in your county, perhaps. With less restraint, I believe what your governor is doing is malevolent, dangerous, and anti-American—and we the people must stop him.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What I find most hypocritical about book banning is that these same people will tell you how they value the freedoms that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights provide (as long as it suits their beliefs.)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Which section of House Bill 1467 “requires each classroom teacher in the Florida public school system to document publicly what books are physically located in their classrooms?”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t worry so much about what they say they want to ban, the children will not stand for that. It is what they are truly scrubbing from history which will be lost to current generations, forcing them the relearn it usually at significant cost. Magicians don’t do magic they make you turn your attention to the insignificant while they disappear.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I do think the rise of social media and the ability to have public discourse that isn’t moderated by editors or gatekeepers means that there is a larger chance of more narratives surviving. But still such a difficult thing to think about.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Look where we were and see where we are now. They are afraid and easily manipulated by actors of all stripe. Troglodytes have been enlightened many times in the past. Bravery is not fearless action but action in the face of fear. If it was easy it wouldn’t be valuable. I fear that the will be blood on the victory but it must be consecrated. Love will win.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The tragic thing is DeSantis is a well educated man who knows better but is so intent on being president that he’s stoking the fears of much less educated people and Florida will end up losing teachers. Probably he thinks he can control what will happen but he cannot. Nice to meet you!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. What a lovely story! It’s wonderful to hear that you have been enjoying reading since such a young age. I can relate to the feeling of being able to escape into other worlds when reading – it can be an incredibly powerful experience. I’m so glad that you have been able to use the skills you’ve learned through reading to get an English degree and take pleasure in your work.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Every book that I’ve read had become a part of me and how I view the world.
    This resonates with me profoundly… I was a precocious reader, and yeah I definitely read things I shouldnt have been reading cause while my peers were still doing primers I was reading the books that were in our home library which was quite well stocked I must say.
    I have seen people talk about this Book Censorship in USA and to me it gives that energy of busy bodies majoring in the minors… of all the things they could make a stance on this the hill they want to die on?
    I am sure there’s a name for it when you scare people into believing information is dangerous, yet you had access to the same stuff now you decide that it should be restricted.
    Curious times
    and as with all things about banning literally anything, the end result is usually complete loss of control of what you hoped to achieve..

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s