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The “Culture War” Designation is Journalistic Negligence: Book Censorship News, December 2, 2022

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

A weakening journalism industry is one arm of the octopus which has allowed book bans and censorship to thrive in the current environment. It’s not just the loss of local news, though. Further contributing is the insistence of calling book censorship a matter of “culture war.”

Censorship is not, nor has it ever been, a culture war.

A “culture war” is what happens between two (or more) factions working to assert dominance for their belief system. Keeping to this part of the definition, censorship might fall under the umbrella of the term. But “culture war” describes more than a fringe movement — and to be clear, despite the power groups like Moms For Liberty, No Left Turn, and others have, they’re still fringe groups. “Culture war” happens when the issue at hand is one which there is a broad sense of disagreement on the topic socially. Book bans and censorship are fundamental principles encoded in the First Amendment rights of all Americans.

Moreover, they’re exceedingly unpopular with the general public. Public opinion polls across the last few years show this:

In Florida, as reported here, where parents have significant latitude in restricting access to library materials for their students, an exceedingly small percentage actually opt into those measures.

Too few journalists have bothered pushing back against the rhetoric of these fringe groups and by framing their behavior as part of a “culture war,” they create malinformation about what’s actually happening. What these news outlets choose to share and how they frame it suggests that the right-wing push against the freedom to read is a much larger and more popular movement than it is through the designation of a culture war.

But the data is quite clear: this is not a society-level culture war. It’s a fringe movement funded by a lot of money and political connections, by adults who want to push their singular, white cis heterosexual patriarchal Christian nationalist norms on the next generation. The same next generation who is already seeing through their bullshit.

Journalists aren’t those who simply repeat what they hear. They do the work of looking through swaths of information, then look into the reality of the situation. To quote the oft-quoted Journalism 101 statement, “If someone says it’s raining and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. It’s your job to look out the window.”

Calling these blatant censorship attempts a “culture war” is a failure of journalists to do their job.

Book Censorship News: December 2, 2022

  • “‘Education on changing gender should be completely off-limits,’ she said. ‘If this is the path the school wishes to take with the social and emotional learning, because that’s the guise that they’re hiding this under, then we should be able to opt out.'” This is over a second grade lesson on Julián Is a Mermaid in Darien, Connecticut.
  • The school librarian at Donegal School District (PA) has resigned because of guidelines over what could and could not be available in the library. Can’t blame the librarian, and at the same time, it’s precisely what right-wing censors want to happen.
  • Gender Queer will remain on shelves in Bow High School (NH). The headline calling the book “explicit” is biased journalism.
  • Chicago Free Media reports on the latest library board meeting in Lincolnshire, Illinois, where advocates for queer books in the collection outnumbered complaints.
  • I shared this last week, but here’s another writeup about how one parent managed to get the entire graphic novel collection pulled for review at the Owasso School District (OK).
  • Hempfield Schools (PA) have been fighting over book policies for 10 months and this week, decided they should focus on how books are selected, as it’s easier for them to censor at that point than once the books are in the collection (is this how they’re all going to get around Island Trees?).
  • Waseca-Le Sueur Library System (MN) has had a challenge to It’s Perfectly Normal. From the reporting, the outcome of this challenge has not yet been determined.
  • The reason this feels like censorship in Orem Public Library (UT) is because it is censorship. The intimidation in this particular library over the last year and a half led to this.
  • “GASD Superintendent Jason Perrin said Littlestown Area School District (LASD) has ‘an opt-in to opt out’ process, where students are required to obtain parental approval before checking out books on the American Library Association (ALA) top 100 most challenged list.” This is also what Gettysburg Area School District (PA) is considering doing. Can you imagine? The titles on that list include some foundational classics.
  • Dallas Center Grimes Schools (IA) are considering updating their book challenge policies and revoking the rights of students on the reconsideration committee to vote on the materials under discussion. Makes perfect sense: completely silence the actual audience of the books and listen instead to well-connected right-wing adults who may not even have students in the district.
  • In Natrona Public Schools (WY), Gender Queer and Trans Bodies, Trans Selves will be allowed to remain on library shelves, but they will require parental permission to access. Still censorship.
  • You can watch the book ban to (attempted) school board takeover pipeline in this story from Salem-Kinzer School District in Oregon.
  • Adults in the Glenbard school district (IL) are complaining about books like Gender Queer and other “inappropriate” titles in the libraries. This link takes you to the public comment section of the last board meeting, as recorded and shared by the group coordinating these challenges (so indeed, the traffic to this YouTube page is to them). It’s important to share, though, to see how rude, ill-informed, and illogical these arguments are. December 12 is the next board meeting at 7 p.m. if you’re local and can show up.
  • “Pyle also questioned why with more than 1,400 students in the district, only seven children, to her understanding, had opted out of reading certain books. ‘If those books are so detrimental to their education and their future life, why aren’t more parents opting out? That to me is parental control,’ Pyle said.” Exactly. This is out of Pennsylvania.
  • Turns out patrons aren’t happy that the city council wants to remove the budget for Ephrata Public Library in north Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
  • Finally, a must-read piece from the Southern Poverty Law Center on one of Illinois’s radical right individuals who has been part of book challenges across the Chicago suburban area. Especially vital in this story? The calling out of all the major media who never once questioned or identified this person’s “credentials.” The media is complicit.