Book banning: A red flag behavior

Steve Corbin is emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa and a freelance writer who receives no remuneration, funding, or endorsement from any for-profit business, nonprofit organization, political action committee, or political party.      

“Just the facts, ma’am,” was the infamous introductory phrase Sgt. Joe Friday would use when interrogating a witness in the whodunit TV series Dragnet. Jack Webb (1920-1982) played Sgt. Friday during Dragnet’s lifespan from 1951 to 1959.

Dragnet’s civil servant show often dealt with complex social issues. Let’s apply Sgt. Friday’s flat and concise “just the facts, ma’am” line to the current book banning craze before offering an opinion.

Fact no. 1: According to a comprehensive report by PEN America, school districts banned books 2,532 times, affecting 1,648 unique book titles, during the 2021-2022 school year. Bans "occurred in 138 school districts in 32 states."

Fact no. 2: At least 50 national groups with more than 300 affiliates have advocated for banning books in school districts and public libraries.

Fact no. 3: Book banning groups, like Moms for Liberty, Parents Defending Education and No Left Turn in Education are linked to Republican mega-donor Charles Koch and GOP donor Leonard Lee, a former VP of the Koch-funded Federalist Society, Adam Gabbatt reported for The Guardian last year.

Fact no. 4: Under Adolf Hitler’s dictatorial orders, more than 4,000 books were banned and burned in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945.

Fact no. 5: A nationwide CNN Poll from February 2022 found only 12 percent of respondents believe parents should have the most say over which library books are on the shelves.

Fact. no. 6: A nationwide CBS News/YouGov survey last year found: A) 83 percent of respondents don’t want books banned that criticize U.S. history, B) 85 percent don’t want books banned that offer different political ideas, C) 87 percent don’t want books banned that depict slavery and D) 87 percent don’t want books banned that discuss race.

Fact no. 7: A plethora of research indicates that a LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum promotes a positive school environment and student well-being.

Fact no. 8: The most prominent advocates of restricting access to books are Republican legislators and governors from states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.

Fact no. 9: The children predominantly affected by the book banning craze are Gen Z (ages 10-26). Pew Research Center notes, “Gen Z is more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations.” Gen Z individuals are independent learners who value diversity and inclusive cultures.

Pat Scales, an ardent First Amendment advocate and author of Scales on Censorship (2007), explains that outright censorship is only one aspect of book banning. Shelving books by keeping them out of readers’ hands is about control, a tactic associated with far-right, Nazi, fascism, authoritarian, and totalitarian ideologies.

Scales notes “intellectual freedom is about respect.” It appears book banning advocates don’t respect the intellectual freedom and First Amendment rights of Gen Z students who want to become knowledgeable about history and 21st century reality.

For parents who don’t want their child to learn about this diverse world, please do your utmost to shelter your child. First of all, take your child out of school, where a certified teacher or classmate may expose your child to knowledge that may offend you.

Next, television, radio, social media, and newspapers should become taboo in your household. Of course, all books and the internet will be off limits as well.

For goodness sake, don’t let your child play outside, as they may observe or hear something that is offensive to you. Don’t permit your child to hold a part-time or (heaven forbid) a full-time job, where they may interact with a person who has different views.

Growing up and adulthood is dangerous to one’s health. Protect your child and hope that someday s/he will live alone on a small island.

Politicians pursuing censorship of books or curricula are all about shielding children under the age of consent from experiencing the real world. That's red flag behavior. Book banners don’t value democracy, they crave authoritarian rule.

Top image: A copy of the often banned book All Boys Aren't Blue, a memoir by LGBTQ activist George M. Johnson. Photo by On The Run Photo, available via Shutterstock.

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