In the past few weeks leading up to Town Meeting Day, there have been a handful of community forums or debates for candidates seeking to serve on Vermont school boards. Some of these public conversations have focused on politically charged issues such as critical race theory, social justice (especially racism and LGBTQ rights), sex education, and book banning.
An Associated Press article on these pages recently described that over the past year book challenges and bans have reached levels not seen in decades, according to officials from the American Library Association, of the National Coalition Against Censorship and other free speech advocates.
According to a new report from the American Library Association, there were 330 “book challenges” in the fall of 2021, a slight increase from similar times in recent years. “Parents, activists, school board officials and lawmakers across the country are challenging the books at a pace not seen in decades,” The New York Times reported last month.
According to PEN America, which has tracked legislation nationwide, dozens of bills have been proposed that restrict reading and discussion in the classroom. Virtually all laws relate to sexuality, gender identity or race. In Missouri, a bill would ban teachers from using “The 1619 Project,” the New York Times magazine issue that focuses on slavery in American history and was published last fall as of book.
“The 1619 Project” has also been discussed in several Vermont forums.
The American Civil Liberties Union, PEN America and the NCAC worked with local activists, educators and families across the country, helping them “prepare for meetings, write letters and mobilize opposition” , according to PEN America Executive Director Suzanne. Nossel. Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle said he would personally donate $500,000 to a book defense fund to be run in partnership with PEN. Hachette Book Group announced “emergency donations” to PEN, NCAC and the Guild of Authors.
The wave of bans has emboldened local platforms, many of whom want to see more conservatism in public schools.
Randal Smathers, director of the Rutland Free Library (and former editor of the Rutland Herald), recently wrote a column called “Reading Beyond Censorship”, in which he actually recommended commonly banned books in pseudo-praise of the First Amendment and a quick setback. to opponents. The same effort from local libraries has spanned the state in recent weeks. We commend them for holding on and holding on.
In an article on Zack Beauchamp’s Vox titled “Why the book ban is back”, the journalist explains how the fight for books in schools is part of a much larger fight, revealing where conservatism stands today. today.
“The rise of book bans…is the tip of a deeper iceberg: a growing movement for the right to use the levers of local and state governance to control teachers and promote an ideologically biased view of what children should learn about American culture, society, and history,” writes Beaucham. “At the local level, the effort is manifesting itself in campaigns led by parents and activists to remove the books from shelves and from curricula. At the state level, there has been a push to enact “critical race theory” bans that restrict teachers’ speech and “educational transparency” rules that sometimes go so far as to put teachers on the line. publicly accessible webcams and requiring them to seek parental permission if students try to join LGBTQ clubs.
Beauchamp, like the Associated Press article, indicates that the movement is gaining momentum.
“It’s still too early to judge the effects of the campaign, but all the activity provides an instructive window into the energy of the American right today. A conservative movement that once claimed to champion limited government is increasingly embracing the coercive use of the law to commandeer a culture it fears it has lost,” writes Beauchamp.
And now we find school board candidates across Vermont making the same push; and librarians and other First Amendment advocates opposing them.
This push-pull certainly has the potential to further divide our communities. But fortunately, even if they are elected, it is up to the schools to decide the program (and what supports that program) – not the members of the school board. This is precisely why we see so many educators, authors and activists advocating for the rights to a complete education. Not one that claims to protect young people from the world outside the school walls.
In our opinion, it is the people on the outside who need to be educated on transparency and rights.