February 12, 2024

Steve Nuzum: Book Bans in the Real World

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Steve Nuzum filed some Freedom of Information Act requests to get a more detailed look at the book bans in South Carolina. The post includes some handy How To instructions, and the highlights of what he found.

So what do these FOIA requests reveal?

  1. A very small number of people and groups are making book challenges on behalf of the rest of us. For example, every one of the Lexington District 2 challenges was made by members of a Moms for Liberty- like group called “PACE for Lexington 2”. All of the challenges provided by Greenville Schools were from one person. All of the challenges in Horry County were from the local Moms for Liberty chair. And although I haven’t received a response to my request last week with Dorchester District 2, one community member there (who was not a district parent or student) filed a challenge against 673 books via email. One person brought every challenge in Greenville School District, writing on each form, “I don’t have nearly enough time to read every book that is on the current list,” yet frequently alleging that the district wasn’t providing balanced/ opposing views for books like Dark Money and Nickel and Dimed.
  2. Many of these challenges rely heavily on other people to do the actual reading. In Lexington 2, all but three of the fourteen challenges I initially reviewed were from a list provided by BookLooks. Many complaints even owned up to not reading the books before challenging them. For example, the author of a complaint against Rise Up!: How You Can Join the Fight Against White Supremacy shared that, “I didn’t read much further than the introduction for the author to reveal her purpose, motives, and activism.” A complainant in Pickens circled “No” next to a question about whether they had read the book (Perks of Being a Wallflower), and wrote, in answer to another question, “I do not have a recommendation. There should be nothing of this ‘quality’ available to our students.”
  3. Many (and probably most) of the challenges are against books that deal with race in America, and/ or LGBTQ+ themes. While I haven’t had time to closely analyze all of the challenges— almost 100 of which are from one district, Beaufort Schools— the emerging trend seems to be that books like Dear Martin and Stamped have received disproportionate attention and challenges (and have resulted in disproportionate reactions from the districts), as have books that deal with what BookLooks calls “gender ideology” (a nonsense term that broadly means, “anything acknowledging the existence and experiences of LGBTQ+ people,” since BookLooks and others have labeled books like Anne Frank’s Diary: A Graphic Memoir as potentially containing “Explicit Gender Ideologies”. The Greenville challenger objected to the book Talking to Strangers on the grounds that it taught students that systemic racism was real, and that opposing viewpoints weren’t provided. Several complaints from PACE for Lex2 claim books like A Good Kind of Trouble foment what one challenger calls “racial unrest”.

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