Most parents want their children to be readers. Parents are urged to set a good example by reading to their children and letting their kids see them read. Public libraries sponsor summer reading programs with prizes for kids who read the most books. Public schools extol reading. Celebrities and sports figures often join campaigns urging youngsters to pick up a book. The Reading is Fundamental campaign has been going strong since 1966.
In light of this elevation of reading as a good thing, it’s especially ironic to see stories in the media about how many public school libraries can’t stock enough books these days. It’s not due to budget cuts; rather, the problem is censorship.
The Washington Post reported recently that several states have passed laws restricting certain types of material in school libraries or giving parents the power to review – and veto – titles. The result is fewer books on the shelves.
Empty Bookshelves In Florida
To get an idea of how these restrictions are playing out on the ground, consider Florida, where a new state law requires that books in school libraries be “suited to student needs” and that school librarians undergo special training relating to “the selection and maintenance of library collections.”
In Clay County, public school officials were uncertain how to interpret this vague law and put a hold on ordering new books. Julie Miller, a librarian for the district, told The Post she would normally have ordered 30 new titles by this time of the year. She has ordered zero and plans to use the money allocated for books on new furniture for the library. In two counties, public school libraries have been covered up or removed.
Similar stories abound in other states. As The Post reported, “In one Texas school district, school librarians have ordered 6,000 fewer books this year than the year before because, under a new rule, parents must have 30 days to review the titles before the school board votes to approve them. In Pennsylvania, a school librarian who must now obtain her principal’s okay for acquisitions has bought just 100 books this school year, compared with her typical 600.”
Education Or Indoctrination?
Not surprisingly, the books most frequently targeted deal with LGBTQ or racial issues. But fantasy novels and even history books are sometimes attacked by Christian Nationalists. Several librarians told The Post that students are clamoring for new titles, but the cupboard is bare.
Christian Nationalists would rather our children be indoctrinated than educated. And while they’d be happy for kids to read the Bible, they fear wide reading in a variety of subjects because exposure to a world of ideas leads some people to challenge the narrow religious and political views of Christian Nationalists.
As this wave of censorship engulfs our schools, there’s a natural force to stand up to it: all those parents who spent years urging their kids to put down a video game and pick up a book. Those moms and dads need to understand that their efforts will be in vain if the shelves are empty. It’s time for them to speak up.