AMAC Exclusive – By David Lewis Schaefer
Following conservative victories in a number of school board races over the last two years and growing awareness from parents about the type of content their children are exposed to at school, many districts are now removing politically radical and sexually explicit materials that have quietly proliferated in school classrooms and libraries amid the far left’s attempted conquest of the education system. In response, the left has decried these efforts as “censorship” and “book banning.”
A recent New York Times headline which reads “A Fast-Growing Network of Conservative Groups Is Fueling a Surge in Book Ban” provides one example of the manufactured outrage from the left. The banning in question does not concern the prohibition of book publishing, let alone the persecution of authors. Instead, the article highlights a vote by the Keller Independent School District, a suburban district outside Dallas, to ban from school libraries books discussing “gender fluidity,” that is, the notion that your sex isn’t fixed at birth, but is something that even children should be encouraged to consider changing if their biological gender doesn’t feel right. The change was pushed by three new school board members backed by conservative advocacy groups, prompting grave concern from the Times authors.
The Times’s specific complaint is that while in the past “debates” about which books should be included in school libraries were conducted in one-on-one meetings between parents and teachers or librarians, leading (at most) to the removal of one or a few books, the issue has now been “supercharged” by various conservative groups and thrust into mainstream political conversations.
As the Times reports, left-wing groups now are organizing to fight the so-called bans, alleging that “banning books about gender fluidity creates ‘a pervasively hostile atmosphere for LGBTQ students’” and violates students’ “right to access a broad range of material without political censorship.” The ACLU as well as a group of Texas librarians called “Freedom Fighters,” and the “Freedom to Read” movement in Florida have all filed litigation to block the removal of books.
But as a founder of the Florida Citizens Alliance, a Florida parental-rights group, explained, “This is not about banning books, it’s about protecting the innocence of our children.” Florida Citizens Alliance has drafted a bill that provides all county residents, not just parents, the right to challenge a book’s being stocked in a school library, since as taxpayers, they are entitled to influence how their money is spent. The alliance also supports a bill requiring that all book challenges be forwarded by school districts to the state, which can distribute the list to districts for consideration in their selection procedures.
The real issue at stake in the “book banning debate” is who should decide what material public school students, especially young ones, have access to and are encouraged to read. Contrary to the ACLU’s assertions, children have no inalienable right to choose which books to read, any more than what films or TV shows they can watch or what video games they can play. Nor is it the job of teachers or librarians to take the lead in shaping their pupils’ sexual mores or encouraging (or discouraging) them from “coming out” as gay or transgender. It is also not the responsibility of school officials to promote “gender-affirming” care – that is, sex–change operations or hormone therapy.
Most parents would understandably be outraged if another parent, or worse, a teacher, showed their child a pornographic or excessively violent film without their permission. The case is far worse if schools are assigning or making available to kids books designed to encourage them to rethink their sexual orientation or even their gender identity. The same applies to including in the curriculum or library one-sided and propagandistic portrayals of U.S. history and American society like those promoted by Critical Race Theory and the likes of the Times’s 1619 Project, or Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist, which can only encourage contempt for our country and promote racial hostility.If parents want their kids to read these materials, they are free to order them online or in a local bookstore
At least as far back as Hillary Clinton’s book It Takes a Village, Democrats have sought to expand the government’s role in molding children, revealing a deep-set belief that most American parents are not “enlightened” enough to do the job right. The roots of that “progressive” attitude go back over a century to the educational theorist and exponent of anti-Constitutional “pragmatism” John Dewey.
But, contrary to the left’s assertions, the leading challenges that American youth face today don’t derive from insufficient awareness of doctrines like Critical Race Theory and transgenderism. (See Abigail Shrier’s excellent and deeply troubling book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters for an examination of the enormous harm that indoctrination into gender fluidity has already caused impressionable young people.)
Instead, the biggest threat to America’s youth is the belief by the left that the state and so-called “experts” know better than parents how to raise their children. This worldview ignores real problems facing American youth and creates more challenges to raising healthy, productive members of society.
Those challenges include growing up in fatherless households, confusion about gender roles, uncertainty about their sexual identity or orientation, and encouragement to regard their peers as either “oppressors” or “oppressed” based on race. Teachers, who are supposed to teach pupils core academic subjects as well as art, music, and physical education, have no professional competence to address such issues. Even less do librarians.
A recent study by the Heritage Foundation and the Educational Freedom Institute demonstrates the difference in worldviews between professional educators in rural areas and the townspeople whose children they teach. Of the over 1,400 political donations made by educational staff living within rural Texas ZIP codes during the past two years, over 90 percent went to Democrats, while Republican governor Greg Abbott won over 80 percent of the vote in those same areas. The disparity exhibits what the authors of the Heritage/EFI study call a “disconnect in values between the parents and public-school employees” in those towns, with the latter “view[ing] their role as rescuing children from the backward ideas of their parents.” Nationwide, educators are interpreting their responsibilities in light of their political loyalties or the instruction they received in schools of education, regardless of the wishes of the populations they serve.
When Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in 1829, preparing his classic study Democracy in America, he was impressed by the free and democratic character of the American family, in contrast to the hierarchical nature of aristocratic families in Europe. However, he concluded his book with a fear that modern democracies would end up decaying into “tutelary” despotisms, where the authority of independent, self-governing citizens was replaced with rule by “expert” bureaucrats, meddling into every aspect of formerly private life, in the name, supposedly, of improving our lives.
America today is beset by this battle between self-styled educational experts and concerned parents striving to defend their children against the ruinous fads into which experts representing the “nanny state” seek to indoctrinate them. Tocqueville would be heartened to learn of the parental uprising against the educational-library establishment.
David Lewis Schaefer is a Professor of Political Science at College of the Holy Cross