Rep. Aaron Bean (R-Fla.) held a congressional hearing on Thursday about combating graphic and explicit content in school libraries, moves deemed as “book bans” by activists and some members of Congress.
“We’re holding this hearing to help ensure that young children are never exposed to this type of graphic content, not to further expose them to it,” he said. Mr. Bean argued media companies have “distorted the truth and fueled public outrage and discontent” over school boards reviewing books for student access, painting efforts to remove “pornographic material” from school libraries as “bans” and mere attempts to undermine discussions of race and LGBTQ+ topics and themes.
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“In fact, seven of the 10 most frequently removed books feature explicit heterosexual content,” he said.
The hearing is in part a response to President Joseph Biden’s recent move in appointing Obama administration official Mathew Nosanchuk to Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Mr. Bean told The Epoch Times that the Biden administration is threatening to withhold federal funding to school districts that “ban books.”
Book Reviews vs. ‘Book Bans’
Mr. Eden took issue with the word “ban” and argued that unless a book is no longer accessible to students in any way—such as removing it from public libraries, book stores, and Amazon.com—it is not “banned.”
Mr. Eden also cited some of the explicit sexual content displayed in many of the books being reviewed for schools, such as “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” a comic-book-style autobiography that displays the author’s personal struggles with gender as a coming-of-age story. Mr. Eden described a scene where a teen performs sex acts on an adult toy worn by another teen, which is accompanied by illustrations depicting the interaction.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) read passages from both “Gender Queer” and “All Boys Aren’t Blue” during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 12. Almost all of Mr. Kennedy’s recitation was “bleeped” for television, causing the clip to go viral on the internet.
The author of “Gender Queer,” Maia Kobabe, told The Washington Post earlier this year that the book is a “comic, and in full color, but that doesn’t mean it’s for children.”
Stacy Langton, a parent in Virginia’s Fairfax County school system, had her microphone cut off while reading the explicit passages from “Gender Queer” during a public school board meeting in September 2021. She was criticized by a school board member for using “explicit language” in her speech, which were quotes from the book.
While some have painted book review efforts as directed attacks on discussing LGBTQ+ ideas and concepts, Mr. Eden quoted an article from The Washington Post that found less than 7 percent of parent book review requests contained the words “LGBTQ+” without being accompanied by words like “sexual,” “pornographic,” or “obscene.”
“That is what this issue is really about—the provision of sexually explicit material to children by public employees. This is a question of adult judgment. Hustler has close-up genital photos, and most believe that this is not appropriate for school libraries. Romeo and Juliet has lyrical illusions to sex, and most believe this is fine for school libraries. A line must be drawn somewhere between those two points. But where, exactly?” He said.
Ms. Degenfelder argued that graphics depictions or illustrations of any kind of sexual intercourse, regardless of orientation, should not be paid for by tax-payer dollars.
“Mentioning details of [these books] feels wildly inappropriate in a congressional hearing, then why is it available to our children? Graphic and erotic images of any sexual orientation are not suitable for minor children and are a complete misuse of taxpayer dollars,” she said.
Issues of Race
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) expressed concern that removing books from school libraries would negatively impact students of color struggling to find diverse viewpoints that are representative of their own identities.
“The community I represent now was predominately of color. Now and then, the school district was significantly of color and traditional academic candidates did not reach those students. The curriculum didn’t reflect them, the books didn’t reflect them, and the subjects and characters didn’t look like the students who were going to those schools,” he said.
Mr. Grijalva said his school district’s superintendent is seeking to limit broad discussions on race and worries this will hurt students of color the most.
“The latest wave of Republican-led book banning seeks to erase our history and reduce the diversity of thought and experiences that exist today,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, after the hearing on Thursday.
One of the most frequently cited examples of a book being removed for discussing race is “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, which, according to the American Library Association, was challenged for “anti-cop” messages, profanity, drug use, and sexual references.
Mr. Eden said he searched school library card catalogs nationally and found that “The Hate U Give” is currently present in all public schools after it was removed, reviewed, and re-approved by school committees.
Mr. Bean defended the book review process.
“Removing a book from a library shelf is not akin to pouring gasoline on it and setting it ablaze. It’s not criminalizing the ownership of the book. It’s not even making them less accessible,” he said.
Finding ”Banned Books” on the Shelves
State Sen. Keith Perry, a Republican from Florida’s 8th district, was approached by a parent who made a complaint about the book “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” in her district. She found the book on a school library shelf after hearing about its contents in the news. The parent said her personal information was leaked to the press after making a formal complaint with her local school board.
One of the six people profiled in “Beyond Magenta” described in explicit detail sex acts they engaged in at six and 11 years old with other children. The passages in question also reference non-consensual sexual intercourse between minors.
Some Florida parents are also worried about sexually explicit books making it to school library shelves.
Lauren Bush, a parent in Highlands County, went to the school board website and used a “Library Book Search” link to see if any of the books from a list made by the Florida Citizens’ Alliance were present in any nearby schools. After Ms. Bush found several of the titles listed in Highland County schools, she made a public Facebook post discussing her concerns.
According to Ms. Bush, the hyperlink in the search tool was removed two-days after her Facebook post went public. She said the text was present, but the hyperlink attached to the text was removed.
She then reached out to Highland County Schools Superintendent Dr. Brenda Longshore for clarification. Dr. Longshore denied any knowledge of the incident, according to Ms. Bush. At some point after their meeting, the original hyperlink attached to the “Library Book Search” tool on the school board website was re-enabled, Ms. Bush said.
The books in question were from a list of 58 produced by Florida Citizens’ Alliance (FCA), a non-profit focused on K-12 education reform. FCA brought the list to Highland County’s attention in July 2021 and determined the district had 17 of the 58 books in circulation at the time.
One parent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was concerned that despite these efforts from FCA, the Highland County school district has yet to put the topic of reviewing books on the official agenda for a school board meeting. She wishes the book review process was being done in public to facilitate collaboration between both parents and members of the public alike.
Echoing concerns that these issues are obstacles for students and teachers, Mr. Bean said the main purpose of his hearing was to refocus efforts on what matters the most with public education.
“What we want to do is get back to the basics of having a wholesome, well-rounded education that prepares kids for either college, the workforce, or the military. That’s what we want to get back to. That’s what the American people want. Everything else is a diversion. Everything else is a red herring,” he said.
Is reviewing books for explicit content a responsible approach to protecting children, or is it a form of censorship that limits students’ exposure to diverse perspectives?
Explicit language in a public setting, but she argued that it was necessary to bring attention to the inappropriate content in the book.
Advocates for book reviews argue that it is important to ensure that books provided to students are age-appropriate and align with the values and beliefs of the community. They claim that reviewing books for explicit content is not a form of censorship or banning, but rather a responsible approach to protecting children from inappropriate material. Critics, however, argue that these reviews are in fact an attempt to limit students’ exposure to diverse perspectives and topics, particularly those related to race and LGBTQ+ issues.
The debate over book reviews and “book bans” has intensified in recent years, with both sides expressing strong opinions. Proponents of book reviews argue that their aim is to safeguard the well-being and moral development of students, particularly young children, who may not have the emotional maturity to handle explicit or sensitive content. They argue that explicit material can have a harmful impact on young minds and may shape their perceptions and behaviors in undesirable ways.
Opponents, on the other hand, argue that book reviews are a form of censorship and an infringement on freedom of expression and access to information. They contend that students should have the right to explore a wide range of ideas and perspectives, even if they are controversial or uncomfortable. They believe that exposure to diverse viewpoints is essential for intellectual growth and the development of critical thinking skills.
One of the key challenges in this debate is determining where the line should be drawn between age-appropriate content and explicit material. What may be deemed appropriate for older students may not be suitable for younger ones. Finding a balance that respects both the protection of children and the principles of intellectual freedom is a complex task.
Ultimately, the issue of book reviews in school libraries raises important questions about the role of schools in shaping students’ education and development. It also highlights the ongoing tension between the desire to protect young minds and the need to provide them with access to a diverse range of ideas and perspectives. As the debate continues, it is crucial to engage in respectful dialogue and consider the potential long-term consequences of the decisions made in this area.
The congressional hearing on combating graphic and explicit content in school libraries has reignited the debate over book reviews and “book bans.” While supporters argue that these efforts are necessary to protect children from inappropriate material, opponents view them as censorship and an infringement on students’ intellectual freedom. The challenge lies in finding a balance that ensures age-appropriate content while respectin
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