School books on Martin Luther King Jr. are too “divisive,” says a conservative group at the center of a battle to ban books in Tennessee. A story about astronomer Galileo Galilei is “anti-church”. A seahorse picture book is too sexy.
As the school year resumes, latent textbook feuds have returned to a boil. In some schools, such as in the Central York School District in Pennsylvania this week, students have pushed back bans on books on racism. But elsewhere, such as in the Williamson County School District in Tennessee, the battle continues, reinforced by new state laws that ban the teaching of certain race-related topics. At the heart of this fight is a conservative group, led by a private school parent, who has a sprawling list of complaints against common classroom books. Most of the books are about race, but other targets include dragons, sad owls, and hurricanes.
By registering their website in late 2020, the group ‘Moms For Liberty’ is one of a series of conservative education groups that have sprung up in the wake of the racial justice protests of 2020. The group is currently involved in battles over school mask warrants, as well as a particularly heated battle for school books in Williamson County, Tennessee.
In June, the leader of the group, who has no children in the district, wrote a letter to the Tennessee Department of Education, complaining that the district’s curriculum violated a new state law prohibiting the teaching of certain race-related subjects in public schools. (The law, one of several enacted over the past year nationally and locally, has come under heavy criticism, with opponents warning it would hamper the teaching of racism in American history. ) The letter from MFL specifically challenged elements of the Martin Luther King curriculum. Jr., Ruby Bridges, protests during the civil rights movement and school segregation.
Nora Pelizzari, communications director for the National Coalition Against Censorship, told the Daily Beast that while attempts to censor specific textbooks are a regular feature of local politics, the NCAC has recently seen an increase in efforts like this one. of the MFL.
“In addition to the broadsides against the books on King and Bridges, the list has a grim take on several books on Native Americans.“
“We see what appear to be coordinated efforts to challenge the books, not just on the basis of the content of the individual book, but on the basis that they teach history from a particular perspective,” he said. said Pelizzari. “There is a politicized approach to questioning the books. We also see entire lists of disputed books, as opposed to individual titles. “
With the start of the school year, the Williamson County feud was renewed, Reuters reported this week. And the scope of the proposed book ban is even wider and weirder than MFL’s June letter suggests.
This letter is accompanied by an 11-page spreadsheet containing complaints about books in the district school curriculum, ranging from popular books on civil rights heroes to books on poisonous animals (“the text talks about horned lizard making gushing blood from her eyes “), Johnny Appleseed (” the story is sad and dark “), and Greek and Roman mythology (” illustration of the naked goddess Venus coming out of the ocean … story of Tantalus and how he cooks, serves and eats his son. ”) A book on hurricanes is not good (“ 1st year is too young to hear about the possible devastating effects of hurricanes ”) and a book on owls is designated as a depressing. (“It’s a sad book, but it’s going well. It’s not a book I want to read for fun,” one adult wrote of the owl book in the spreadsheet.)
Asked for comment, the Williamson County MFL Chapter told the Daily Beast that the list represented a collection of complaints about books in the district. “There are 31 books that our parents have expressed concern about,” the group leader wrote in an email. “Some books should be deleted entirely. Some books are objectionable only because of the way they are presented via the accompanying teacher’s manual. And yes, some books would be better suited for a higher grade level due to their age-inappropriate content.
In addition to the broadsides against the books on King and Bridges, the list has a grim take on several books on Native Americans. One, The girl with the rough face, is deemed inappropriate as it includes an illustration of the protagonist bathing “with her hair covering her chest”. The book First Nations of North America: Plains Indians is also a no-no, because it “paints the whites in a negative light”.
Several books containing Spanish or French Creole words receive warnings from the group for potentially “confusing” children. An article on the crackdown on civil rights protesters, meanwhile, is deemed inappropriate for “a negative view of firefighters and police.” A fictional Civil War book (given to fifth graders) is deemed inappropriate, in part because of descriptions of “unmarried families between white men and black women” and descriptions of “whites as” bad “or” bad. ” “. “
At one point, the group implores the school district to include more charitable descriptions of the Catholic Church when teaching a book about astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was persecuted by said church for suggesting that Earth spins around the Sun.
“Where is the HERO of the church?” “The group’s spreadsheet asks” to contrast with their mistakes? There are so many opportunities to teach children the truth of our history as a nation. The Church has a huge and lasting influence on American culture. Good and evil must be represented. The Christian church is responsible for the genesis of hospitals, orphanages, social work, charity, to name a few.
MFL’s Williamson County Chapter is also disputing a seahorse picture book, in part because it depicted “mating seahorses with pictures of postions. [sic] and discussion of the male carrying the eggs.
The Daily Beast reviewed the text in question via a children’s storytime YouTube channel.
Readers looking for a Kama Sutra seahorse sex will be disappointed. Seahorse: the most timid fish in the sea contains nothing riskier than watercolor illustrations of two seahorses holding tails or touching bellies (never – the heavens – at the same time).
The passage that “describes how they have sex” reads: “They twist their tails together and turn gently, changing color until they match. Seahorses are loyal to one mate and often pair up for life. Today the Sea Horse companion is full of ripe eggs. The two dance until sunset, then she puts her eggs in her pocket. Barbour’s seahorses mate every few weeks during the breeding season. Only the male seahorse has a pouch. Only the female seahorse can grow eggs.
MFL recommends that the book be restricted to older children, up to eighth grade.
Pelizzari noted that moral panics over school books rarely come from the students reading them. In many cases, such as in Central York, Pennsylvania, she said, students are on the front lines fighting book bans.
“The students are not throwing these challenges,” she said of the proposed book bans. “Students frequently complain when they are not allowed to read things that they think they should be allowed to read. Students defend themselves very often, much like the students of York defend themselves. It’s a great illustration of how savvy and sophisticated students are.
“Students can manage a lot more than what people often attribute to them. “