The wave of book censorship sweeping through America these days reached a point of absurdity recently as schools in Duval County, Florida (Jacksonville area) followed a state mandate to “err on the side of caution.” They “cancelled” a couple of baseball players' biographies. The state legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a law setting down rules as to what is inappropriate content for school classrooms and libraries. The need to “err of the side of caution” is serious because violation of these state mandated standards is a felony for which the teacher or librarian can be sent to prison. Who would want to take a chance of having a book at school that might send you to jail because it upset some politician or bureaucrat, no matter how ridiculous?
The result was that Duval County recently removed some books from their schools, at least for now, pending review. The legislation also allows any one resident of the district to object to a book and send it into a review process. All books must now pass by a “certified media specialist” who has taken training prescribed by state authorities before they can be placed in schools. “Certified media specialist” is a euphemism for government censor. If this sounds like what goes on in places like Russia or China, it's because it is.
A few of the principles with which books must comply include:
“No person is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or
unconsciously, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex.
“A person, by virtue of his or her race or sex, does not bear responsibility for actions
committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
“A person should not be instructed that he or she must feel guilt, anguish, or other
forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part, committed
in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”
Of course no child should feel guilt for what others did, but might they feel some anguish or distress if they hear that some people of their race once enslaved, or maybe still do discriminate against a person of a different race? If a book mentions this, and a child could feel sad or distressed, which would be a normal human reaction, will librarians decide to play it safe and “cancel” history before some politician carts them off to prison? Perhaps the politicians' real fear is the children will be outraged by what was done in their name and put an end to the mistreatment of others who aren't exactly the same.
The result of this censorship law is objections were made and books removed from one Duval County school, including Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Henry Aaron's Dream. Talk about “cancel culture” run amok! They were both great baseball players. Hank Aaron hit more home runs than any other major league baseball player in history. Roberto Clemente was a great player and humanitarian who died in a plane crash while delivering supplies to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua. He was the epitome of non-controversial. Still, each encountered a certain amount of discrimination along the way but were American success stories in the mold of Jackie Robinson. Clemente was a Puerto Rican who began playing in the 1950s, while Aaron was an African American who grew up in the Deep South in the 1930s and 1940s. Could his story be told without recognizing he had to overcome difficulties White children did not have to face? Is that too distressing a tale to tell children? I can't wait to see the Jackie Robinson biography that doesn't mention discrimination.
Then again, there is the approach of another Duval County school, as shown in the picture taken by a substitute teacher of its library shelves. They removed the books. At least this librarian can sleep at night not fearing the dreaded knock on the door.
This in no way reflects poorly on officials from Duval County. They are merely following state law and playing it safe. Two years ago, Duval renamed six of its schools that used to be named for Confederate leaders. Jefferson Davis Middle School became Charger Academy. Robert E. Lee High School is now Riverside High School. Unlike the state, they are trying to overcome past injustices, rather than prolonging them.
Here is what is baffling. The state legislature and Governor have passed legislation to protect the tender sensibilities of White children who might erroneously think they were somehow responsible for things other people did. There is a word for such extreme sensitivity. I think it's “woke.” These politicians are very “woke.” What I don't understand is that while some Florida communities have on their own removed symbols and school names of people who fought to keep Black people enslaved and allow Black children to be taken from their families and sold to the highest bidder, the state has not acted to remove these symbols. In fact, Florida still recognizes three Confederate holidays - Jefferson Davis' Birthday, Robert E. Lee's Birthday, and Confederate Memorial Day. Won't such symbols honoring people who went to war so that they would be slaves distress Black children? Why hasn't the state acted to stop their anguish and distress? What is the difference? Perhaps someone smarter than I can answer this baffling question.
Postscript: The Duval County school said the picture taken by the substitute teacher only showed some of the shelves. Others still had books. They also announced that the Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron books have been returned to the library. That's nice but one suspects that the bad publicity may have played a role there. None of this should make us forget that the Florida state government has become a government censor of libraries, and such government censorship reeks of terrible countries that all Americans who appreciate their hard-won liberty would never want to emulate.