Friday, February 24, 2023

The Cost of Being Right At Any Cost

I struggled with what to name this.

I started with something pithy like Just Say Gay Already, to reference the law that got us into this mess.  Or No More Words to reference the lack of books.

I then went to something angry and factual, like Life Under Fascism.   

I settled on a slight pun, but a sobering reality, for this image reflects the sad future coming to much of our country based on the trajectory of the laws that we are looking to pass.

“There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

This photograph was taken on January 27 by Brian Covey, a substitute teacher at Mandarin Middle School in Duval County, Florida. He posted it as proof of a prior post that he had made where he told his followers that the district had removed every book from his children's classrooms.  This was a photo of all the fiction books removed from the library of the same school.

Covey has indicated the district was aware of the photograph when he posted it, and had never indicated it was a problem.  Covey, instead, had been recently praised in a staff meeting by the school principal for bringing order and stability to a previously unruly class of math students.

The was no issue with the photo until February 14, when reporters asked Governor DeSantis about it.  They specifically asked him about photos of "bookshelves empty" in schools.  DeSantis responded that this was a "false narrative" and not true.

The next day, Covey was fired in a 45-second phone call, for violation of the schools social media and cell phone policies and had been the subject of several complaints.

“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon.”

Representatives for the school have since described the video as manipulative and shown other "full" shelves in the library.  They have confirmed that the books were the school's fiction titles, but that they had been removed pending review by a media specialist, as required by the state's "curriculum transparency" law.  Each book is required to be reviewed to determine if it violates the states broad child pornography law and the new STOP Woke Act and Parental Rights in Education Act, i.e. the Don't Say Gay act.

This review has made more than 1.5 million books inaccessible to students in Duval County Public Schools.

Let that number sink in.  1.5 million books.  In one county's school system.  The entire media collection for the DCPS is around 1.6 million.  This put nearly 94% of the school system's books under review.

To make matters worse, though it is supposed to have many more media specialists, the school system currently only has 54.  54 people assigned to review 1.5 million books. That's 27,777 books a person to review.  

And if they get it wrong, they can lose their jobs, or, at worst and most crazily, face third-degree felony charges.  

No wonder it's moving so slow.  Up to February 17, the specialists had only reviewed 6,000 books and returned them to the schools.  Counting for 0.275% of the total in their review.  

A pittance.

And this is on top of their other responsibilities to the school like supporting teachers.  No, their time is now focused on reviewing all these books.

A wide variety of books.  While the image showed the fiction section, even non-fiction titles are still being held under review.  Books like:
  • Roberto Clemente The Pride of The Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Henry Aaron's Dream
  • Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army
  • Thank You, Jackie Robinson
  • The Hero Two Doors Down: Based on the True Story of Friendship Between a Boy and a Baseball Legend
  • Barbed Wire Baseball:  How One Man Brought Hope to the Japanese Interment Camps of WWII
Notice a pattern?

These were all books in the Essential Voices Library Collection, highlighting the stories of a variety of ethnic, religious, and gender minorities.

The thing is, it would be really, really surprising, if it wasn't so transparent.  DeSantis may claim the laws were designed to remove only the books that 99% of the public would oppose.  But anyone who actually read the bills could tell him this was what was going to happen.

It's a feature, not a bug.

Plus, this is only one county, one school system in Florida. 

It's happening all over the state.

“The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are.”

We often seem to forget the purpose of art, of literature.  While it exists for many functions, literature, like art, exists to hold a mirror to ourselves.  Literature is meant to push us.  To expose us to new opinions, new ideas, contrary opinions, contrary ideas.  It's meant to make us empathize with people we could never otherwise identify with.  It's meant to shock us.  And yes, it's even meant to offend us sometimes.

We are best served by a wide exposure to as much literature as possible.

Can we agree that there are somethings that should not be in an elementary school, a middle school, a high school library?  Of course.  There are such things as grade level appropriate. 

Remember, though, there are always those who read above grade level.  Who think above grade level.  Those who have life experiences that would not be deemed grade level appropriate.

Are we really so afraid of our students actually learning something and growing, that we will strip away all access to non-lowest common denominator information?  To only provide the most sanitized of sanitized material for our children?

I realize knowledge is a weapon.  

I just didn't realize we wanted our children un-armed.

“Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy."

Throughout this post, I've been including quotes from one of my favorite novels.  I read it in high school and it has continued to impact me since that first read.  I've read it multiple times since then and it continues to get more applicable, more prescient, and more frightening.

In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury imagined a future in which books were burned.  There firefighters didn't stop fires; they started them, burning any books they found.  The masses were controlled by removing their access to information.  Or I should say, by removing access to information that the state didn't like.  The people had video walls full of information, enough to overwhelm the viewer.

Drowning in information for a lack of comprehension.

I wonder if my kids will have the experience of reading this book as part of their high school English curriculum.  Or will it be deemed to controversial?  

Too dangerous?

There are similar bills being discussed and enacted across the United States.  Here in Indiana.  In Texas.  And at least thirteen other states.

We're not to burning books, yet.

But it's hard to imagine a future with so many empty shelves.

With everything "pending review."

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