ORLANDO, Fla .– Alicia Farrant never thought she would fight to get books out of her local school system.
The mother of five in Orlando says she is in love with books. She thinks they teach children and adolescents valuable lessons. School district affairs and board meetings weren’t even on her radar.
Then she came across a list of books passed down by a friend that were described as sexually explicit, even pornographic, and commonly found in schools.
She took them out of a library.
“It’s not just one or two pages. The vast majority of them are like tons of inappropriate content, ”she said, pointing to a book sitting next to her. “The whole story is pretty much about a girl losing her virginity – sex acts.”
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The rush for elimination
Farrant doesn’t like using the term “book ban” because she’s only trying to get them out of school libraries, but that’s one of the terms academics use. This is not new either. The First Amendment debates around books have been around as long as the civil rights movement, according to the National Council of English Teachers.
The ban on books has fluctuated over the decades. The most recent move began in early to mid-2021, around the time Farrant and many other parents became involved in school board decisions regarding the masking.
“The Book Challenge really follows whatever causes anxiety in society,” said Dr. Emily Knox, a researcher and professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Due to the changing conversations around race and gender identity, Knox said she was not surprised that parents are contesting an increased number of titles from their district libraries, although she has taken care of separate the two into different movements.
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Some parents focus on books that some perceive as racist or teach “Critical Race Theory,” the name of a graduate law university program that has become synonymous with any effort to reform the way race. and racism are taught in schools. Knox said this trend has intensified after the protests following the death of George Floyd last year.
“There were protests all over the country, often in very small towns, and they were led by young people,” she said. “I think it probably caused some anxiety in the parents (wondering) where their kids had learned this idea of protesting.”
The movement for which Farrant became an advocate centered on gender and gender identity. Some advocates have lobbied to suppress any novels that deal with subjects that some groups consider taboo. In years past, it was divorce. More recently, targets include same-sex relationships or marriage and transgender children.
Farrant doesn’t consider himself that extreme. Her point of view, and the opinions of other parents in central Florida, is based purely on gender, that anything that would not be acceptable for students to chat loudly in the hallways should not be found on the shelves. from the library.
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Some books, like “Tricks,” the novel she considers the most shocking yet on the shelves and the one she pointed out earlier, are full of descriptions of sex acts and rape. Other books, like “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah, only dispute it because they can be found in middle schools, not just high schools.
“Tricks” has been assigned an age range of 14-18 years, while “Born a Crime” is considered appropriate for children 11 and over.
The debate explodes
The first signs of the movement’s arrival in central Florida came at an Orange County School Board meeting in October.
As the parents entered the room to discuss the masking, a man stood up and complained about the novel “Gender Queer. ” He read a passage from the book. Board chair Teresa Jacobs asked him to stop.
When he continued, she asked an officer to escort her out of the room, telling the audience she thought it was too inappropriate for a public meeting as well as for the library shelves.
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“Gender Queer” has been deleted, school district staff report, and it is the only book that has been formally challenged this school year. The book, which describes oral sex acts, is deemed appropriate for adolescents and adults 15 years of age or older.
It was also pulled from Brevard County shelves and was the only book reported so far this year, officials said.
Schools in Flagler County have or are reviewing four books, including one that deals with race. One of the books was the subject of a marathon school board meeting on Tuesday night, when parents talked for hours about the award-winning novel “Not All Boys Are Blue.”. “ While some were in favor of keeping him in school, the majority wanted him to disappear.
“You can talk about these topics without… explicit sex acts,” one man said.
District officials said they are ordering books in bulk from a distributor who works with schools to provide age-appropriate content. At least in the case of Orange County, not all books are individually examined before being put on a shelf, executives said.
Knox said there were several arguments for keeping books on the shelves, one being that children already had access to explicit content in schools already through their phones and the internet.
However, she focused on making teens look for characters and experiences they can connect with and relate to in books, and the pages have provided them with a safe space to work out their issues internally.
“The best thing to do is really think about who might be hurt if those pounds are taken off,” she said. “It’s less about the book than about the idea that there are people out there who might actually need these books; that these books speak to them in a special way.
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Knox acknowledged that the debates were full of nuance and complications, as when images were involved, as in “Gender Queer”. She said there was no common ground in this debate – either books were banned or they weren’t.
“Actually, it’s not so much about the book,” she explained. “It’s more about how do we think about school? How do we think about our local community and what values do we want the school to have? “
When it comes to sex, she said books are a safe way for kids to explore the topic, even if parents don’t want to think about it. She disagreed with the assumptions some parents made that books can lead teens to less desirable behavior. She has often said that books act as mirrors on a person’s past experiences or thoughts.
She said the tricky thing about teens is that experiences can differ across age groups, even between a freshman and a senior. In a high school library, to deny a group access to a novel was to deny them to everyone.
She also addressed another of Farrant’s concerns that some books were too dark and disturbing for teenagers. Farrant believed that if a book touched on a heavy topic like mental health, it should offer teens a lesson, a way forward, or hope.
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“Our work needs to reflect society as we know it,” Knox said. “What hope for one person is not necessarily hope for another. Sometimes the way out is… to learn more about someone whose life was very dark and had no way out. “
Knox concluded her interview by saying that she was thrilled that parents were involved in their community, even on a topic she disagreed with.
Farrant, who runs an Instagram page she named “Rise Together,” knows her opinion is more conservative than others and that some parents will disagree with her point of view. She said she just wanted a standard implemented that didn’t dictate the availability of books by subject, but rather by the relevance of the content.
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While some parents may see this as a very nebulous, opinion-driven solution – who decides which parent’s opinions define the line that is drawn – she thinks this is a clear result.
“Anything that is sexually explicit, sexually arousing, anything like that… we don’t need it,” she said. “There are thousands of books that don’t contain this kind of material. “
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