By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
September 22, 2022
It’s Banned Books Week across America, and concerned parents or elected officials who have had the audacity to challenge the wisdom of librarians or teachers are being vilified in more than a few media reports.
“I’m guessing very few people get up in the morning hoping for a chance to ban some books,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Many of these folks who are being accused of censorship are truly decent people who suddenly became aware of what some schools were peddling to their children and knew they had to take a stand against it.”
In an editorial in The Wall Street Journal last year, Thomas Spence, president at Regnery Publishing, called Banned Books Week a “gimmicky promotion” that caters primarily to “those who believe that school children should have access to anything bound between two covers without the interference of those busybodies we call parents.”
There is no denying that attempts to remove sexually explicit or inappropriate books from classrooms and school libraries are on the rise. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom announced that it tracked 729 challenges to library, school and university materials in 2021, resulting in more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals. Similarly the organization PEN America says it documented 2,532 separate book bans affecting 1,648 titles at 5,000 schools.
But is the rise in challenges creating “a dangerous time for readers and the public servants who provide access to reading materials” as the ALA asserts? And are “librarians and teachers under attack for doing their jobs?” Or are parents and elected officials wising up to what youngsters are being exposed to in the schools — more than 40 percent of the banned titles address lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer themes — and showing up at school board meetings to demand decency?
PEN America characterizes the movement as a “sophisticated and well-resourced campaign” run by some 50 advocacy groups, most of which have formed in the past year.
But Sheri Few, a founder of the grassroots organization United States Parents Involved In Education, points out that the organization’s 20 chapters are run mostly by volunteers who are opposed to books containing content inappropriate for children.
“It’s not the concern that parents are expressing over the content of these books that is causing schools to become a battleground – it’s the very content they are pushing on children that has caused the schools to become a battleground,” Few told the media.
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, agreed, pointing to sexually explicit sections of the book “Looking for Alaska,” which were read aloud during a Cabarrus County Board of Education meeting.
Board vice-chair Laura Blackwell didn’t mince words after reading from the 2005 novel by John Green during a recent work session. “This is the kind of crap that’s in our schools, and you think this is OK?” she asked.
The board came under fire from some local citizens who accused its literature and supplemental materials committee, which Blackwell chairs, of making plans to ban books. In a letter, the group said they opposed “book bans, removals, or relocations under any circumstance” — a demand that Chair Holly Grimsley said was unreasonable.
She said books need to be reviewed and that the explicit material needed to be read aloud so that the audience understood that board members were not exaggerating about its graphic content.
“This is what was in some of our libraries, and it is the reason it needs to be reviewed,” she said.
Blackwell told the media that the issue was not whether Green had written a good novel, but about whether it was age-appropriate.
“You can have a wonderful book and have material that is not suitable for children,” she said. “Do we need to expose our children to adult subject matter that they have no perspective on because they don’t have the same life experiences as an adult?” she asked. “My job is to protect our children and that is what I will continue to do.”
Creech said many of the controversies over inappropriate books or curriculum began following students’ having to do their schoolwork at home during the Covid pandemic, an eye-opening experience for many parents who may not have paid close attention to what their students were being taught until they witnessed it firsthand.
Texas parent Christine Malloy considers the time in quarantine during 2020 as a gift. “It gave us all time to pay attention to what’s going on, what our kids are being taught — what they were seeing,” she told The Texas Tribune.
Mary Lowe, chair of the Moms for Liberty in Tarrant County, Texas, said her chapter is mainly focused on getting rid of sexually explicit books in schools. “There are an enormous amount of literary books that are more aligned with academics and expanding the mind without such a heavy focus on sexual content,” she said.
The Catholic Vote website boils the controversy down to a difference of opinion regarding whether parents have a right to speak into any educational issue that doesn’t directly involve their own children.
“ALA’s basic policy concerning access to information) states that, ‘Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources,’” the website reports. “The problem with this approach is twofold: first, the parents in this case are the same taxpayers who pay for the library. They pay the staff’s salary, for building maintenance, and for resource acquisition,” says the Catholic Vote. “Every parent – whether conservative or progressive, Catholic or Muslim or atheist – ought to have a seat at the table in deciding what books are appropriate for children.”