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ST. PAUL, Minnesota. Oct. 6, 2022 – Education Minnesota encourages voters to be even more careful in their research of school board candidates this year as school districts around the nation have restricted lessons about race, banned books about racism and passed polices to make their buildings less welcoming for all students.
“Most Minnesotans want to send their students to schools where everyone feels welcome and every student can develop the critical thinking and other skills they need,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. “Unfortunately, there’s a national movement to deny students the freedom to learn the whole history of America, both the good and the bad. In some states, MAGA groups have banned books about Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges, the Holocaust and even Anne Frank. Groups and school boards have demanded the removal of pride flags and other symbols of inclusion. This is contrary our union’s goal to educate every child, no matter where they live, what they look like or who they love. We will not be silent about it.”
Specht said with only a few weeks left in the 2022 campaign and school board elections in about 300 districts, voters should ask school candidates very specific questions about their view of inclusive, welcoming schools for every student. When candidates talk about “divisive concepts,” “getting back to basics,” “critical race theory” or “gender ideology,” voters need to ask what, exactly, the candidate means and what content or lessons the candidate would deny students.
“The examples of book bans, curriculum restrictions, blaming and shaming LGBTQ+ students and policies to chill the speech of educators are piling up around the country,” Specht said. “This is too serious to let candidates off the hook with platitudes. If you want to prevent book bans in your local school district, you need to ask follow-up questions.”
She said Education Minnesota, the state union, was also encouraging educators in its local unions to review more candidates and endorse those that align with the values that most Minnesotans have for their schools.
“No one knows what works, and doesn’t work, in a school better than the people in the buildings every day,” Specht said. “We want to partner with parents, as most educators have in the past, to work on the real problems and help every student. So, educators should use their expertise to question the candidates and share the educators’ conclusions about them with the voters. Some groups might want the educators to stay quiet, but in America voters pick their leaders, leaders don’t pick their voters.”
The national campaign by big money groups to influence school board races around the country has advocated for book bans – often successfully – in numerous states around the country. A small sample:
- In Tennessee, a Moms for Liberty chapter attempted to ban a book about MLK Jr.’s March on Washington and another book about Ruby Bridges. Moms for Liberty now claims to have four chapters in Minnesota.
- In Pennsylvania, the town of York school board “unanimously banned a list of educational resources that included a children’s book about Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography and CNN’s Sesame Street town hall on racism.”
- In Texas, the Keller Independent School District pulled from its library a graphic novel adaption of Anne Frank’s diary along with 40 other books.
This is not an exhaustive list.
- In Florida, a candidate for the Orange County Moms for Liberty has moved to the ban a book, “Looking for Alaska,” by John Green. https://www.tiktok.com/@literallyjohngreen/video/7141804014793968942
- In Kansas, both “The Handmaids Tale” by Margaret Atwater and “Slaughter-House Five” by Kurt Vonnegut have been banned from schools.
- In Missouri, news reports say that in response to a restrictive state law, 97 books were banned across the St. Louis area alone, including, ironically, a graphic novel adaption of George Orwell’s “1984.”
For good overviews of the national movement to restrict what students may read and learn in schools about race and gender, see:
PEN America: “Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools.” https://pen.org/report/banned-usa-growing-movement-to-censor-books-in-schools/
“This movement to ban books is deeply undemocratic, in that it often seeks to impose restrictions on all students and families based on the preferences of those calling for the bans and notwithstanding polls that consistently show that Americans of all political persuasions oppose book bans. And it is having multifaceted, harmful impacts: on students who have a right to access a diverse range of stories and perspectives, and especially on those from historically marginalized backgrounds who are watching their library shelves emptied of books that reflect and speak to them; on educators and librarians who are operating in some states in an increasingly punitive and surveillance-oriented environment with a chilling effect on teaching and learning; on the authors whose works are being targeted; and on parents who want to raise students in schools that remain open to curiosity, discovery, and the freedom to read.”
The New York Times, “Book Ban Efforts Spread Across the U.S.: Challenges to books about sexual and racial identity are nothing new in American schools, but the tactics and politicization are.”
‘“It’s a pretty startling phenomenon here in the United States to see book bans back in style, to see efforts to press criminal charges against school librarians,” said Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of the free-speech organization PEN America, even if efforts to press charges have so far failed.’
Media Matters: https://www.mediamatters.org/critical-race-theory/banning-books-about-martin-luther-king-jr-and-opposing-school-district
“The same county chapter (of Moms for Liberty) created a list of ‘books of concern,’ opposing the teaching of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the March to Washington because of “photographs of political violence” and Ruby Bridges Goes To School because of ‘racist remarks’ among other things. The group also disapproved of First Nations of North America: Plains Indians because it ‘paints white people in a negative light.’”
About Education Minnesota
Education Minnesota is the voice for professional educators and students. Education Minnesota’s members include teachers and education support professionals in Minnesota’s public school districts, faculty members at Minnesota’s community and technical colleges and University of Minnesota campuses in Duluth and Crookston, retired educators and student teachers. Education Minnesota is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AFL-CIO.