On Monday, June 12, Illinois became the first state to stop a few disgruntled parents from imposing their views on an entire school district or library region.
Illinois HB 2789, a special initiative of Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, who is also that state’s librarian, actively supports First Amendment rights by establishing consequences for state libraries and schools that remove reading materials because of “partisan or personal disapproval.” The bill cleared the Senate on a party-line vote, with all 19 Republicans voting nay.
Pennsylvania should follow Illinois’ lead and block state grant funding to public libraries and schools that don’t follow the American Library Association Bill of Rights. (That ban on state funding would include censorship on the left and the right, including Haverford Middle School’s proposed ban of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.)
Pennsylvania currently has the dubious distinction of ranking third in the number of school library bans, second only to Texas and Florida.
Pennsylvania is in dire need of this same kind of protection. Across the U.S. book bans are only increasing in popularity. This year, the American Library Association counted 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources — the highest number of attempted bans in the 20 years they have been keeping records, according to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Pennsylvania currently has the dubious distinction of ranking third in the number of school library bans, second only to Texas and Florida. Between July 2021 and June 2022, Pennsylvania allowed 457 book bans across 11 school districts. (Fortunately, some of the bans have been rescinded.)
According to the Pennsylvania Capital Star, as of mid-February, the following districts have banned books or are facing continuing efforts to initiate bans:
- Central York School District
- Downingtown Area School District
- East Stroudsburg Area School District
- Eastern Lancaster County School District
- Elizabethtown Area School District
- Fairview School District
- Franklin Regional School District
- Kutztown Area School District
- Pennridge School District
- Wissahickon School District
Moms for Liberty and book bans
Many are crediting this disturbing trend to the misnamed group Moms for Liberty (M4L). Established in early 2021 in Florida, M4L has made frightening progress in all states — but especially ours. PA’s M4L membership numbers are second only to those of the organization’s home state, the sunny home of Mickey Mouse and his chief rival, Ron DeSantis.
Fortunately, M4L has not made inroads into the School District of Philadelphia. (They will, however, literally make an inroad to Philly itself later this month — June 26–July 2 — when they gather in Center City for their national summit. Expect more protests.) But we cannot be overconfident. These anti-liberty moms (Moms for staying mum?) are organized and determined. Hurrah to New Jersey for considering a bill similar to Illinois’s firm action against censorship. Everyone who understands the high stakes should show similar resolve.
School Boards are key to protecting democracy. In Philadelphia, we don’t elect school boards. The mayor appoints — and City Council approves — a Board of Education. Paradoxically, this system of appointment rather than election has worked out well when it comes to offering students a well-rounded education. City schools teach a full picture of social studies and history, giving students access to diverse books. (We have other problems in Philadelphia. Sometimes these books are woefully out of date. And we need better leadership, more teachers and librarians — and better pay for our educators.)
We cannot be overconfident. These anti-liberty moms (Moms for staying mum?) are organized and determined.
Even without immediate threats of censorship, Philadelphians should be ever vigilant and organized to stop the spread of book banning and to help our suburban neighbors — Bucks County especially! — to fight inroads from M4L and other anti-democracy groups.
The Illinois ban on book bans affirms the idea that education should be designed to help young people explore and evaluate ideas and to think for themselves. Censorship is the hallmark of autocracy. Freedom of thought defines democracy.
The Sun-Times’ Gene Lyons’ column, Moms for Liberty’s anti-library antics remind me of Peyton Place, recalled my own days in the 6th grade.
If you are around my age, you may also remember passing around dog-eared paperback copies of Peyton Place with selected marked passages. We didn’t get the book from the library, but the library didn’t ban it. Those of us who read it (and that was most of us!) were certainly not damaged and, in fact, we learned a lot about hypocrisy — the kind of hypocrisy characterizing Moms for Liberty.
Things we can do:
- Lobby Governor Shapiro and the PA Legislature to follow Illinois’s lead in passing a law to ban book banning.
- Be vigilant — and organized — to combat threats to First Amendment rights.
- Pay close attention to candidates running for school boards (if you live in areas where they are elected). Vote for people who protect the right to read.
- Monitor the Philadelphia Board of Education to promote and reward their continued efforts to oppose book banning.
Post updated at 3pm on June 20, 2023.
Elaine Maimon, Ph.D., is an Advisor at the American Council on Education. She is the author of Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation. Her long career in higher education has encompassed top executive positions at public universities as well as distinction as a scholar in rhetoric/composition. Her co-authored book, Writing In The Arts and Sciences, has been designated as a landmark text. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum. Follow @epmaimon on Twitter.
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