Book Censorship News, June 21, 2024

Book Censorship News, June 21, 2024

Book Censorship News, June 21, 2024

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She’s the editor/author of (DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

In one of the first guides to fighting book bans and censorship I wrote back in 2021, I emphasized that book banning was but one arm of a multi-tentacle approach to dismantling public education and public libraries. Book banning is part of the path being paved by groups like Moms For Liberty and No Left Turn in Education, whose missions are to fulfill the goals laid out by right-wing institutions like The Heritage Foundation (the same one as Project 2025*).

Among the goals of groups like The Heritage Foundation are the destruction of the Department of Education. DeVos being named the Secretary of the department during the last administration was a strategic decision that began to destabilize it. Additional goals include the privatization of all public goods—if it can be made profitable, it will be—and, more specifically, a push toward private and homeschool education based on the Advanced Training Institute teachings, accompanied by state level for voucher programs. Those voucher programs help subsidize private and homeschool options by funneling tax money away from public schools and into those alternate education options. The result is that public schools lose more and more money. Their budgets are unpredictable year to year because they cannot rely on a stable pool of tax money. Schools then have access to fewer and fewer resources and students whose parents don’t have the money or time for alternate ideas lose out. Vouchers often do not cover the entire cost of any private school nor any pricey homeschool curriculum—you’d have to be wealthy enough to not need to work full time in order to educate students at home or even in a local homeschool pod. It is primarily those who already have the means of sending their children to private schools who benefit from the vouchers.

A key word here is access. It’s the same idea behind book bans. The few are taking access away from the whole in the name of their own beliefs becoming the only acceptable ones. Those who cannot afford to buy the books being banned in their schools or libraries—or those who cannot get to the public library when a book is banned from their school library—do not have access to the same materials their wealthier and more privileged peers do. Lack of access to books, reading, and aspects of curriculum (think diverse education, sexual education, social-emotional learning) means a lack of learning about or engaging with ideas that differ from the narrative offered by those with power and privilege.

Targeting books in public schools and libraries is purposeful. Create a frenzy over lies and disinformation about the content in libraries and classrooms, then profit by claiming students are being indoctrinated, then utilize those lies to push for voucher programs because your student shouldn’t have to be around that kind of stuff. See also: demand a book be banned, claim that books like those are proof the schools are incapable of doing their job, take time and money away from schools to put the book through the review process, complain about the time and money wasted on such a review process, and repeat the cycle until the money, time, and people are all gone.

We’ve already seen multiple attempts to shutter public libraries—fortunately, every single one has been unsuccessful. But for public schools, the time is here.

Iowa Starting Line’s reporting on the potential closure of Orient-Macksburg Public Schools is must-read material. The southwestern Iowa school district is small, but predicting enrollment rates has become increasingly difficult for them and other schools in the state because of the governor’s new open enrollment laws, as well as a new statewide voucher program. With open enrollment, which isn’t an uncommon educational option in the US, students can enroll at any public school district in the state where they live. Iowa’s new policies on open enrollment, however, mean that this can happen at any time, as opposed to during a specific period of time. If a student wants to leave their current district and go to another one, they do not need to wait or make a decision at a particular point during the year. The districts where students are leaving pay the new district the per pupil fee.

When Iowa’s governor updated the open enrollment laws, she also made it against the law for districts to use voluntary diversity plans—something that a few districts in the state used to affirm or deny open enrollment applications. Voluntary diversity plans helped curb some schools from becoming the all-rich kids’ school, a real problem in Des Moines schools. Those voluntary diversity plans were a benefit to the least privileged students, and their dissolution was decried as a quick path to funding problems when the bill was under consideration.

Iowa’s statewide voucher program launched in the 2023-2024 school year. It provides families with a per pupil stipend to attend the school of their choice; it’s the same amount of money that a district a student leaves via open enrollment would need to send to their new district of enrollment. But—and this will come as a shock—the vast majority of those who took vouchers in its first year, two out of three, were already enrolled in private schools. Their parents were already wealthy enough to send them to private schools; the vouchers were a scheme that allowed them to avoid paying taxes to the districts where they already lived.

A combination of having no solid way to gauge enrollment, thanks to bills passed by a deeply conservative majority in the state, alongside the disappearance of COVID relief funds—something also misappropriated by the state’s governor—means that the Orient-Macksburg had few options.

At the most recent board meeting, the board voted for dissolution.

The 2024-2025 year will be the final one for the district and over the course of the next few months, what happens to the students at the school is up for discussion and vote. There were already discussions of Orient-Macksburg consolidating with another district but, per the Starting Line reporting, the district was too late in recognizing the financial issue to make this a viable option.

And yet, one of the most common refrains in book banning rhetoric is the notion of “local control.” Those claiming a lack of parental rights want to be able to be in charge of what materials are available to students on a district-by-district, if not school-by-school, basis. This is a clever way to make discriminatory arguments, as “local control” can be wielded in discussions that uphold white supremacy through language like “traditional values” and/or “traditional education.” But the story of Orient-Macksburg and schools like it is actually one of local-level concern. What happens when the local public school is no longer there? What options do those without the financial means, let alone available time, do when they can no longer walk their children to school? When the best option is a pricey private school in their community that, despite a $7600 voucher, hardly covers half the tuition?

The dissolution of public institutions like schools, like this one in small-town Iowa, is about access.

It’s a chilling realization that Orient-Macksburg is but the first Iowa district to be dissolved under the myriad anti-public good legislation in the state. Students, no matter how small a town they live in, no matter how economically challenged a town they live in, deserve taxpayer-funded public institutions to help educate them. In Iowa, consolidation, as imperfect as it is, is an option and has been used for decades to help small schools stay solvent.

As has been made very clear here, it’s not the poor kids who are benefitting from these new laws. It’s the rich kids and the kids whose parents have no problem affording pricey private institutions or who have the time and means to indoctrinate them with white Christian nationalism educate at home. Parents have always had the right to choose where and how their students are educated. They have not—and should not—have the right to decide how that impacts other students.

Iowa, under the current leader, has failed its future in the name of “parental rights.” It has failed every student who doesn’t fall neatly under the cishet white Christian ideal not only through such fractioning of public education. It’s also done so through bills like Senate Fill 496—the book ban bill currently on hold as it is being heard in the court—as well as changes to labor laws that allow children as young as 16 to operate dangerous machinery and work in demolition jobs (restrictions that exist on the federal level). It’s also allowing children as young as 14 to be permitted to drive to work and school beyond prior distance limits.

Where 16 and 17-year-olds are labeled “children” when it comes to the books that might be sitting on shelves in their school and public libraries, it’s perfectly appropriate for them to be given dangerous, federally outlawed responsibilities at work because they’re believed to be mature enough.

We know it’s not because any of this is about the children. It’s about white supremacy.

It won’t be the children of the politicians destroying public school who will be driving an hour to school when they’re 14, nor will it be their children killed while working around heavy machinery. It’s not their kids who have lost their local schools. This is the future they’re not only dreaming of. It’s the one they’re creating in Iowa and in dozens of other states nationwide.

*Project 2025 should be of deep concern to anyone who cares about the Constitution but for advocates of libraries, you should absolutely know that libraries and library workers are directly called out in the document. From page one: “Today, America and the conservative movement are enduring an era of division and danger akin to the late 1970s. Now, as then, our political class has been discredited by wholesale dishonesty and corruption. Look at America under the ruling and cultural elite today: Inflation is ravaging family budgets, drug overdose deaths continue to escalate, and children suffer the toxic normalization of transgenderism with drag queens and pornography invading their school libraries” and from page five: “Pornography, manifested today in the omnipresent propagation of transgender ideology and sexualization of children, for instance, is not a political Gordian knot inextricably binding up disparate claims about free speech, property rights, sexual liberation, and child welfare. It has no claim to First Amendment protection. Its purveyors are child predators and misogynistic exploiters of women. Their product is as addictive as any illicit drug and as psychologically destructive as any crime. Pornography should be outlawed. The people who produce and distribute it should be imprisoned. Educators and public librarians who purvey it should be classed as registered sex offenders. And telecommunications and technology firms that facilitate its spread should be shuttered.”

Book Censorship News: June 21, 2024

Originally Published Here.

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