June 27, 2022

Palm Beach Post: Curb teacher role in Florida effort to ban books

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The editors of the Palm Beach Post offers some thoughts about the newest wave of attacks on books in school libraries and the practical problems that come in trying to enforce them.

HB 7 and HB1557 are now the law in Florida and a harsh reality for public schools. HB 7 gives parents the ability to challenge any classroom instruction perceived to be discriminatory or indoctrinate, particularly lessons involving race and racism. HB 1557 offers similar “parental rights” on gender identification and sexual orientation.

Parental rights enthusiasts contend the laws will help stem discriminatory indoctrination but in truth they have undermined true education and fostered a new wave of dehumanizing bigotry and ignorance that hurts everyone but particularly impacts those individuals whose skin color isn’t white and whose sexual orientation isn’t straight.

Politics, not education, is the big driver here. Since January 2021, 42 states, including Florida, have introduced bills or taken other steps to restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism, sexism and sexual orientation, according to a survey done by Education Week. CRT is an academic examination of race and racial policies that isn’t taught in public schools but that hasn’t stopped right-wing politicians and true believers from using it as a cudgel against public school education. Between September 2020 and August 2021, nearly 900 school districts across the country have been targeted by anti-CRT efforts, according to researchers at the University of California Los Angeles and University of California San Diego.

Just last week, Gov. DeSantis launched his own initiative, the “DeSantis Education Agenda,” an anti-woke indoctrination policy platform for school board candidates and members committed to advancing “student-first, parent-centered” initiatives.

The new Florida laws may be good politics, but the same can’t be said for their impact on our public schools in Palm Beach County. School officials are scrambling to make sure the district complies with the law while maintaining a semblance of sound education instruction to meet the demands of an increasingly diverse group of students and parents. It’s not an easy balancing act, one borne heavily by the teachers.

Granted, school officials are up against extreme logistical problems. The books in question are largely supplemental materials, books that aren’t considered “core” instruction but were nevertheless approved to be placed in school libraries and media centers to help students better engage and understand lessons taught in the classroom. And at the moment, most of them are packed away due to summer recess. Come the start of school, teachers will be spending time flipping through pages of suspect books, a chore competing with precious time needed to prepare for incoming students.

Read the full editorial here.

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