We recently discussed a book burning organized by a school district in Canada. Now, members of the Spotsylvania County School Board have called for the burning of books with “sexually explicit” content from school libraries. There has been a disturbing rise in calls for censorship, bans, and removal of books from book stores and other forums. Book burning is the most grotesque manifestation of censorship and view intolerance.
Board member Rabih Abuismail at Monday’s meeting referenced books with homosexual scenes and declared “I think we should throw those books in a fire”, according to The Free Lance-Star.
Board member Kirk Twigg added that he wants to “see the books before we burn them, so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff. There are some bad, evil-related material that we have to be careful of and look at.”
Even if these members say that they were merely using hyperbolic rhetoric, it is still rhetoric is still reckless and sends a terrible message to children that book burning is a way to express one’s values.
The burning of “bad stuff” is the siren’s call of every authoritarian movement in history. While the media has been selective in its outrage (including open or implied support for book banning of conservative authors), all such movements are threats to the every essence of free speech in our society.
The controversy in this school board was triggered by the discovery of the young adult novel, 33 Snowfish by Adam Rapp, NBC Washington reported. A parent in the district, Christina Burris, voiced these concerns with the school board because of the story of homeless teens who experience sexual abuse, drug addiction, and sex work. The book includes LGBTQ storylines. The book is recommended for readers ages 15 and up.
Schools clearly exercise control of what books should be included in classes or libraries. School boards historically exercise oversight on such questions. The school should be allowed to address the educational value of such books and explain any limitations placed on access to such material.
I am not familiar with this book but I favor giving deference to schools on the inclusion of material in libraries. There are LGBTQ students in all high schools who want to read books that speak to their lives. Conversely, the mandatory assignment of such material in classes raise difficult issues and legitimate concerns over what is appropriate for a lesson plan or a particular age group. We should be able to have civil discussions on such issues as parents. However, to call for book burning is to yield to the darkest impulses of history.