In Florida, the appropriateness of certain books in schools has become a hot topic of debate, resonating not just within the state, but also on a national level. With the recent trend of increasing concerns:
- Carl Hiaasen, a widely recognized Florida author, expressed his disapproval of school censorship. Hiaasen revealed to the Tampa Bay Times that he’s been dissuaded from attending book readings in several states due to controversies surrounding his work. Though he has not faced such issues in Florida, he anticipates it’s only a matter of time.
- Notably, other renowned authors have shown their support in combating the issue of book banning in Florida, as highlighted by the Tallahassee Democrat.
- In a gathering organized by the Florida Democratic Party leaders in Miami, the impacts of book challenges and censorship were the main points of discussion. Some even labeled it a stepping stone to authoritarianism.
- Alachua County’s school district saw the removal of the book “Beyond Magenta” from its high school libraries due to a parental complaint over its sexual content.
Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill and its Implications
In March 2022, a significant event unfolded when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis showcased a page from the book “Call Me Max” during a public appearance, questioning its appropriateness. Soon after, he signed Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill, commonly referred to by its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. This bill originally prohibited classroom teachings on sexuality and gender identity for kindergarten through third grade but was later expanded to cover all grades up to 12th.
As a consequence:
- Books like “Call Me Max” faced challenges and were removed not only in Florida but in other states too.
- Kyle Lukoff, the author of “Call Me Max”, negated the idea that bans increase book sales, stating that the national attention brought more efforts to remove his work than to promote it.
- With more than 3,300 books banned in the 2022-2023 school year (a 33% rise from the preceding year), there is a clear indication of increased censorship, as indicated by PEN America’s report. The targeted books primarily cover topics of race, racism, and LGBTQ+ narratives.
Financial and Emotional Strain on Authors
Contrary to the general belief that banning a book can lead to a surge in sales, many authors like Lukoff find themselves facing dire financial consequences. The broader reach of these bans can lead to a sustained decline in sales, especially detrimental for authors from marginalized communities. Phil Bildner, an advocate for writers, emphasized that these bans have been overwhelmingly burdensome, both financially and emotionally.
Patterns in Book Banning
Historically, banned book lists comprised titles like “The Catcher in the Rye” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”. However, there has been a noticeable shift recently. Concentrated efforts by groups such as Moms for Liberty and LaVerna in the Library have led to comprehensive lists of potentially objectionable books. Websites like Rated Books and BookLooks also offer reviews and highlight contentious content.
Interestingly, as reported by The Washington Post, a staggering 60% of book challenges in the 2021-2022 school year originated from merely 11 individuals.
Book Context and Parental Rights
Magnusson emphasized that while certain books might contain explicit or challenging content, their overall context is what determines their appropriateness. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, from the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, believes that while parents have the right to decide on book choices for their kids, overarching bans can be detrimental to a diverse literary culture.
Additional Topics of Interest
- Security measures: The Palm Beach County school district has introduced metal detectors in all of its high schools following a successful trial.
- STEM education: Volusia County school district has launched a new mobile laboratory for hands-on STEM activities.
The ramifications of book bans extend beyond just the shelves of schools and libraries. With significant financial, emotional, and societal implications, it is essential to approach the topic with a balanced view, valuing diversity and inclusivity in the literary world in the face of increasing challenges. The essence of literature is to open windows to various perspectives and experiences, broadening the horizons of readers and fostering a sense of empathy and understanding. Suppressing voices based on themes or content narrows this scope, leading to a more limited worldview.
Tampa Bay Times offers more insights on the ongoing education debates in Florida.