Book bans are never just about books

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Book bans are nothing new in the United States, but  our guest this week says the current movement to restrict access to books about race and gender has a different flavor than bans in previous eras. Rather than coming from individual parents or from the ground up in a community, demands to ban dozens or even hundreds of books at a time are coming from state legislators or national parent groups who circulate lists of books online. This trend is troubling for free speech and for the democratic processes that govern how students access information in schools.

Joining us to unpack what’s happening and what we can do about is Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education at PEN America. He oversees advocacy, analysis, and outreach concerning educational communities and academic institution and drives PEN America’s efforts to catalyze a more informed, civic culture through education and advocacy for the rising generation and the general public.

Additional Information

PEN America’s report on book bans

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Episode Transcript

Michael Berkman
From the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University. I’m Michael Berkman.

Candis Watts Smith 
I’m Candis Watts Smith.

Jenna Spinelle
I’m Jenna Spinelle, and welcome to Democracy Works. This week, we are talking about book bands. And our guest is Jonathan Friedman, who is the director of free expression and education at PEN America, So very timely conversation. But you know, Michael, what exactly are we talking about here? When we use this phrase, book ban?

Michael Berkman
So Jenna, once again, we’re talking a bit about school board politics and what’s going on in the American public schools and what a, what a good choice of the guests to use somebody from PEN to talk about this issue that we’re all hearing about these days. I mean, along with PEN, I think we’re thinking of a book ban as, as pretty much anything that involves an action taken against a book by a school board or school administration, based on its content, and predicated by some kind of challenge from parents or people within the community. So this doesn’t have to be an outright ban of a book, it could be, it could be removing the book from the library, taking the book off the curriculum, or raising other kinds of concerns about the book, something having to do with the content in the book.

Candis Watts Smith 
Of course, we know, you know, book bands are never about the books. They’re usually about some effort to shape public discourse to determine what’s important to kind of put your flag down on what’s mainstream, who’s allowed in who’s not allowed. And, you know, I think book banning is like, the original, that like grandparent of canceled culture, you know, there’s always kind of a lineage to this tactic and the strategy, and we’ve seen it time and again, you know, one of the things that comes to mind or came to mind, as I was thinking about Jonathan’s contribution here, and PEN America’s contribution is Frederick Douglass autobiography where he talks about the first time he really got an argument about abolitionism, was by the man who owned him, and he was chastising his wife about teaching enslaved people to read, because that would give them too many ideas that would broaden their perspective and outlook on what’s possible. And so, you know, we look across history we see when both bands are, you know, they show up, well, were to the Cold War, the 1980s around, you know, creationism, you know, and, and now, right, but they ultimately are often, you know, they’ve served to kind of mitigate challenges to those who see themselves on, you know, as the prototypical, you know, in this case, American. But, you know, I mean, I think one of the things that we just kind of want to pin down or just maybe even think about is, you know, like, who should even decide what children with children learn which books, they should see which ones they shouldn’t see,

Michael Berkman
There are a lot of actors out there that have a stake in this, right, there are parents, and we’ve been hearing a lot from parents. But there’s also the community, which includes parents, but it’s not exclusively made up with parents, because the schools do belong to the community. And they play a very important democratic role within the community. But then there’s also the experts, experts and subject matter experts in educational theory. And of course, we expect them to have a role. And, you know, standing in the middle of it all are teachers, and whether or not we want teachers to act independently based on what they think is best, or whether or not we think they need to be directed on what they can do by schools or by states by the state in some way or by some of these other actors. But there is a sense, and I think it’s it is growing, and it’s becoming more and more powerful. And I know, we’ve seen it in our polling at the McCourtney Institute, that conservatives in particular seem to think that these decisions should be up to the parents. But the kind of argument that you were making before is to me why these kinds of decisions should be up to the community, and why they should be up to even higher level state authorities that are in a position to make a decision about you know, what, what kinds of democratic citizens were trying to develop and educate. If you say to people, should we ban books are going to say no, then what we asked them is who should be deciding a variety and those issues had to do with for example, sex education, or race and racial history, evolution, creationism and COVID restrictions. So we asked about all four, instead of asking people what their position was, on the particular policy, kids wear a mask, we say who should decide. And that’s where, really, to me interesting partisan differences emerge that say a lot about our contemporary politics. And so Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to say that parents should decide on some issues and others, but for them, but they are the most likely across the two party across partisans of both sides to say that parents should decide, Democrats are much more willing to put that power into the hands of teachers, or into the hands of what you might think of as experts, or into the hands of even school boards who represent the community. So where you see the real difference is not necessarily on the policy, but who should decide

Jenna Spinelle
And I think we’ve set the stage here about this, who decides question, Jonathan, will certainly pick up on that as well. But let’s go now to the interview with Jonathan Friedman. Jonathan Friedman, welcome to democracy works. Thanks for joining us today.

Jonathan Friedman 
Great to be here. Thank you.

Jenna Spinelle
You know, the anti democratic forces in our culture, as we’ve talked about on the show before are very good about controlling the narrative and sometimes distorting the meanings of words and phrases. And so I thought it would be helpful to kick off this conversation about book banning with a bit of a definition. Would you mind telling us in pen America’s eyes what a book ban is, and perhaps what it is not?

Jonathan Friedman 
Yeah, there’s been a lot of confusion on this point. So I appreciate the chance to clear it up. So there is a sense in some cases, that a book ban only refers to one very narrow kind of thing, which is a school district saying, this book is absolutely banned, and nobody in the school can get it. And that is, indeed one form of book bands. But in our work, we also look at book bands that take place where a school district decrees a book off limits, either for a classroom or a library, but not necessarily the other, or when it decrees a book off limits for a certain grade, when up to that point it had been there. And the reason is, because yes, you can have school districts reevaluate and through committee review processes decide that a book might be better left for kids that are that are older or have an age difference of being restricting it for an older age. But in many circumstances, what we’re talking about are situations where one parent, or maybe a few parents decide that something that their child accessed was inappropriate. And therefore they decide that that book must not be accessible for anyone else. So at the root of book banning, we’re talking about that desire or that effort by somebody to exert control over what everybody else has access to. So when I’m talking about book bans, I’m talking about a range of decisions that are being taken in schools. In some cases, we’re talking about books that are being de facto banned by being restricted. So for example, if a school library says you can’t take out this book, without explicit permission, with a permission slip, meaning your student you want to read that book, you need to go to some special shelf, maybe behind a reference desk, you need to bring it to the library and the librarian has to look up if you have a permission slip in the system before you could what open the book, read the title, read the back cover, they just seem so wholly undemocratic. And that’s the kind of censorship that we’re seeing seep into schools.

Jenna Spinelle
So I know that PEN America has been tracking this activity for a long time. And you’ve published reports and pieces about, you know, when this happened in the 80s, for example, the kind of Jerry Falwell era like that period of time, can you just sort of take us back a little bit and maybe compare and contrast what we saw in that era versus what we’re seeing today?

Jonathan Friedman 
Yeah, book bans have always come in waves. There was an effort in the late 70s and early 80s. To have conservative activists, some parents bring a list of books to some of their school districts and remove them. And that most closely parallels what we’re seeing right now. But what is different right now. And what is really unprecedented here is the involvement of politicians, political groups, and this isn’t just about, you know, one group in one part of the country. This is spreading to numerous states, and it is spreading fast. And so you have in our report that looked at book bans from July of 2021, to March of 2022. A number of cases where politicians got involved sent letters to school districts sometimes like in one case in Texas, a politician who was running for Attorney General sent a list of 850 books he wanted investigated to all school districts across Texas. And that has led to many of those schools, quote unquote, investigating meaning pulling the books from the shelves. And you know, this isn’t a request from a parent or anybody who read any of these books. It’s not even clear how he got to 850. Most people believe that it was through some kind of keyword search, looking up words like LGBTQ or racism or diversity. So it’s highly, highly concerning that that would be what is driving policies in school libraries, and school districts. And even right now, as we speak, there’s one in Kansas, where a GOP state representative has told a specific school district he wants a very specific book, gender queer by my Uncle Bobby removed from the shelves. And when the superintendent told the representative, well, you can submit a petition and challenge and objection and we have a process, the State Representative head says no, I want you to remove it right now, because he wants it. And that is an alarming overreach by a government official who should know that that’s not what they’re supposed to be doing in their positions of power. Even in moments, the United States where we have single party rule, et cetera, there is meant to be a notion that we live in a diverse, pluralistic society that people can disagree. And in fact, it is a core part of the First Amendment, that government is not supposed to suppress freedom of expression, including the freedom to write the freedom to read the freedom to think but that’s what’s happening.

Jenna Spinelle
Right. So you know, you mentioned, you know, several books, or perhaps many of them currently, the books in question deal with issues of race and gender and identity and these sorts of things. Is it that perhaps another difference between this era and previous eras where there it’s there’s a sort of laser focus on these, you know, couple of issues,

Jonathan Friedman 
There is a bit of a difference there were as previous areas may be focused a little bit more on profanity, or other aspects of things that somebody finds offensive, but you know, no, there, there are ways that people have always found something offensive in books that they don’t like. And there is a long, really long history of suppression and censorship of LGBTQ content in particular, and in particular, labeling such content, obscene and pornographic and illegal and barring it from circulating even when it has nothing to do with sexual conduct whatsoever, just by virtue of being, you know, homosexual, queer in nature, etc. But the other thing that is really striking, and we have to bear in mind here is that even five years ago, a lot of the books that are now being challenged, were barely on school library shelves, they were barely even written or published. So there has been in many ways, a huge increase, maybe you could say, it’s still not fully reflective of the diversity of the population in the United States. But there has been an increase in writers of color in LGBTQ writers, and in stories that reflect you know, their realities. So as we have tried to, through publishing and through children’s literature, in particular, provide a more accurate perhaps, and, you know, just diverse forms of representation. Now, we are seeing a backlash toward that. So the reason why we haven’t seen so many challenges to LGBTQ characters, in books in school libraries is because until relatively recently, there literally weren’t any and the number of people who are adults now who maybe grew up with same sex parents who would say that they never read a book with same sex parents that they weren’t represented in children’s books. I mean, I’m, I cannot remember in my years in school ever seen an LGBTQ character normalized that way, not even like a random character in the back of a book about other things. So we’re talking about a whole form of representation that has, until very recently been relatively unusual and not acceptable at all in the mainstream, and now that it has gained even just a modicum of mainstream presence. I mean, it’s not like this is really in most schools curriculum, we’re talking about books that people voluntarily decide to read in the library or that their parents seek out. Now in response to that we’re seeing this backlash.

Jenna Spinelle
Are there commonalities to the process by which school librarians and other school officials consider whether or not to make a book available to students?

Jonathan Friedman 
So this is the precise issue that came up in the 1982 Supreme Court case called Pico, which was all about this question, the question of process and what that decision held was essentially that school boards and school districts should not engage in ad hoc or highly irregular processes to remove books, essentially, just pulling a book at the drop of a hat that they needed, well established, considered regular programs or ways and policies for book reviews to happen. And that is speaks so profoundly to what we’re seeing right now, which is in many cases, this knee jerk move and response to petitions to remove books. Now the way that this should work. has been recommended by the American Library Association as well as the National Coalition against censorship. And they have detailed guidelines in many school districts actually, even in places where they’re not following the guidelines, this is what they have on the books. So it’s not always the same, but it looks something like this. A Petitioner can fill out a form, they are supposed to put that form in writings that there’s a specific complaint, it’s not just a general vague, I found this book offensive, they’re supposed to, through the written form, demonstrate that they actually read the book. And again, that’s something in a lot of places that people who are filing these complaints, or even admitting they haven’t read the box. So they’re supposed to write these forms, the forms are supposed to go to the school level. First, at which point, the principal is meant to form a committee, usually of educators, media specialists, librarians, parents, teachers, maybe students or school administrators to who would then get together, read the book, talk about it, but also undergo some kind of formal training, exposure conversation about the purposes of a school library. So the whole point here isn’t just that you are deputizing people to make a decision, you’re encouraging them to become informed citizens who understand their responsibilities here, which is that a library is meant to serve everybody. And so even if you personally don’t like the book, if four or five people on the committee do, maybe you shouldn’t be pushing to remove it, or let’s say, let’s say five people want to remove but only one wants that there shouldn’t we consider that one person’s preference to. And so there is this sort of notion here, that’s supposed to come out through this process, which is to be reflective of, frankly, a degree of minority opinions. But anyways, once that decision committee comes to a decision is then supposed to go up to a district level if it is appealed. So it is absolutely not meant to be the case that this is that a book could be complained about on Monday and removed by Tuesday. This is meant to take deliberation consideration. So if

Jenna Spinelle
As you say there are these processes in place, why are we seeing such seemingly knee jerk reactions from school districts when these challenges come from state lawmakers?

Jonathan Friedman 
I think that what we are living through is something that I have called the ED scare, and it really echoes the red scares of the past. And that’s why I call it that. And it is a moral panic concentrated on schools, colleges and universities. And it threatens to totally destabilize and undermine public education, as many of us know it. And it is that Ed scare it is that political climate, the fear of backlash that is driving school administrators. So in a particular district in Florida, Walton County, there was recently a removal of 58 books after a group circulated a list of these books that they deemed inappropriate to the school district. But in that particular case, the school superintendent, in fact, said that he was removing the books, even though he quote hadn’t read a single paragraph of any of these books. And he said he was removing them in order to protect people in the district from perilous circumstances in the context of the current Florida legislative session. So you’re you have to look at this as the incredible impact of politics playing out in school districts where there’s a great deal of fear. And essentially what is happening is that if anybody says that there is a reason to be angry at a school, the school seems to be under such concern and pressure that they would like to immediately resolve it by doing whatever anybody is asking them. And so that is a way in which it seems like school districts and superintendents are increasingly being held hostage by some of the policies that are being reported by and being advanced by politicians.

Jenna Spinelle
And can you talk a little bit about the role that the internet has played in kind of spreading all of this? I’ve I’ve read news reports about groups like moms for liberty, like they could just spring up and share information in a way that would not have been possible in previous eras.

Jonathan Friedman 
Yes, I don’t think this would have been possible. Without the internet, you have groups of parents and or even just citizens in different parts of the country who are meeting each other online and perhaps being radicalized there. And that is how excerpts of books are basically being traded across the internet so that people can get angry about them in different parts of the country, excerpts lists, arguments to be made about how a book is particularly a form of somehow inappropriate, and also just mimicking the same tactics. So if you are looking at Florida, and you say, Look, this group just sent a list to all the school districts in Florida and and a few of them, they just removed everything on our list. Why wouldn’t you try the same thing in Virginia and Ohio and Texas, in Tennessee, and so there is been a mimicking of tactics and a spreading of information. And it’s very clear that in many parts of the country, this is not the spontaneous result of parents and children reading any of these books. is actually in case in point in Walton County, they banned 58 books, but only 24 of them were actually on the shelves, they banned the books before even checking what was in there holding. That’s the urgency and panic that appears to have set in there. But that’s also the fact that the challenge isn’t even being made about a book, anybody on the district, the challenge is being based on some lists. So this is totally outside of the ways that this is supposed to work in policies. And that also reflects, you know, that level of that role. And that also reflects the role of the internet that is playing in all of this.

Jenna Spinelle

Yeah. So you were just talking about several different states there. I know PEN America maintains a database of these bands and these actions, can you just give us a sense of what the scale is here, roughly, you know, how many states how many districts how many bands like what’s the kind of scope of what we’re talking about here.

Jonathan Friedman 
As of now, our records are limited to the period of July 2021, to march 22. And what I can tell you is that on April 1, there was a whole bunch of new book bands and even you know, throughout the month of April, so we haven’t updated on our numbers to be totally currently up to date. But in that nine month period, we found 26, states had school districts that had banned books and 86 districts within those states. And we looked at the number of students who enroll in public schools in those districts, and it totaled 2 million students. And so it’s clear that this is happening all over. Some states like Texas, Pennsylvania, and Florida, are the current hot zones, I would say today, but there have been moments in the past six months where that was somewhere else. And in Tennessee, for example, although there isn’t a lot of activity that has been successful at banning books and particular school districts. Right now there is a political movement, a bill that is going to allow the governing party to appoint a partisan committee to make a list of all books that are deemed appropriate in schools. And if the book is not on the list, the school libraries are going to have to pull it. And there’s a lot of evidence and energy in Tennessee in particular against LGBTQ representation in schools and curriculum. And so it would not surprise me to see that that part is in committee carrying forth its work in a way that results in book banning across the state. And it’s really quite draconian to think of, particularly because even when we are talking about the way this is supposed to work, it is meant to be a deeply local community based process.

Jenna Spinelle
So you mentioned that the Supreme Court case earlier PICO, what is the sort of legal framework here is that, you know, balancing the rights of students and a no schools, of course, being public entities, like how do all of these things interplay with one another?

Jonathan Friedman 
Well, I would say that, when we get into talking about the First Amendment and constitutional rights in the school setting, we have to recognize that there are numerous groups who may have some kind of right in the situation, but students are among them. And it was decided in Tinker V. De Moines, in the 1970s, that students do not lose their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gates. And so in Pico, that idea held some sway. And so there was a similar notion that there should be some kind of special protection, in particular for school libraries, maybe not for school curriculum, but in particular, for school libraries, which are spaces of voluntary inquiry. And that notion has guided most school districts when dealing with these challenges to books well, until now. And so the trick is to figure out a way to uphold students rights in these processes and recognize that commitment to again, not suppressing based on hostility to any particular ideas, and recognizing that we live in a diverse pluralistic society where different students and different parents might have different ideas about At what age different books can be read. Yeah.

Jenna Spinelle 
Is there anything else you been seeing or you know, hearing about as you talk to librarians and teachers and students on the ground other, you know, what are they doing to to kind of push back against this?

Jonathan Friedman 
One of the things that we’ve seen a lot of are groups of students getting together to form banned books, clubs, that’s been happening in a number of school districts and states. So that is one example that comes to mind when you when when thinking about the ways in which taboo books can become read, but I don’t know to what extent that’s becoming a major focus of groups of students in schools. And I also think that in general, that line of thinking, risks undermining the library itself, because if we all sort of respond to this moment, saying, Well, you can get books on Amazon or the public library, or we’ll just send you free copies of the books that have been banned. In the long run. What we are doing is basically surrendering the concept of the library as a place and as a repository of books for all and I do worry about that long term concept.

Jenna Spinelle
And on this notion of you know, how much attention to bring to these issues, you know, on the one hand, if it is well publicized as you say it gives people more of an opportunity to fight back. But I also feel like in our media environment today like that could also just ramp up the hostility and the fervor with which the people who are in favor of the bands are acting as well.

Jonathan Friedman 
Certainly, there is an interesting dynamic between national groups and state level politicians where, you know, they might be more reactive to local concerns than they would with ideas or concerns that are coming from outside of their districts. And so that is another dynamic to bear in mind, we’re understanding this, but in our work, what we have tried to do is, you know, stick firm to the belief that sunlight is the best medicine. And really, at a certain point, we felt it was necessary to shine a bigger, brighter light on this phenomenon, because for those of us who have been following it closely, I think many of us many people that I know, around the country had observed the ways in which school districts were maybe not following policies here, or maybe they’re wanting to written challenge form there. But it was really only when we put in the effort to chronicle and create this index of school book bands for the nine month period that we did, and look at school policies and all the decision processes, or frankly, lack there of was when we really realized just how extreme this problem had become. And our report found that 98% of the book bands in that nine month period had been done without following these back best practice guidelines that uphold and safeguard Students First Amendment’s right first amendment rights, and 98%. So in the vast majority of cases, we looked at we chronicled 1586 book bands, I think the number is 36 of them went through proper committees, and 1550 did not okay. And that’s just speaks to how extreme some of this has become, whether it’s leaders in Central York, or politicians in Tennessee, or groups in Texas, that’s what we’re seeing is these clandestine efforts to remove books without following any kind of sense of transparency or public policy?

Jenna Spinelle
So you know, as, as our listeners, who are people who value and care about democracy and free speech and the in the First Amendment, are there other things that they could or should be doing, you know, right now, as these bands continue to, to pop up across the country?

Jonathan Friedman 
Well, I think what we have to do right now is make people realize the extent to the problem, and that there are things that they can do that they can attend school board meetings that they can make their voices heard, I think most polling shows that the majority of Americans do not support book banning. Nobody wants to live in a country that feels so retrograde. This is the 21st century, I can’t believe that this is what we’re all talking about. And so clearly, that, you know, belief has to be kind of instilled again in the rising generation and all of us as a threat to democracy that we must stand against. And so it’s about redoubling our efforts to do so to get involved to speak with students to speak with teachers and communities. And in a lot of parts of the country right now, teachers are very afraid, librarians are operating in a climate of fear and as our superintendents, and so how can we all those of us who are parents, or those of us who are close to schools, do our utmost to give support to those who are feeling that political climate right now. I think that there are a lot of ways that we can engage in solidarity in empathy, but also in a testing to the importance of democracy and standing quite firmly against book banning. It’s not so hard to do. Just read something else if you don’t like the book.

Jenna Spinelle
Well, Jonathan, thank you for all of your work and everything that PEN America is doing on this issue. And thanks for joining us today to talk about it.

Jonathan Friedman 
Thank you so much for having me.

Michael Berkman
Okay, thanks, Jenna, that was a terrific interview, really fascinating guy to listen to about a problem that I think is a lot larger than I had recognized, before listening to the interview, at least in terms of the number of students affected the number of states this is going on, and the number of school districts and the way that it is inevitably going to spread, I would think at least through the election as it just sort of runs through the runs through the internet. I was also thinking as I was listening to this and thinking about some of the books that are being banned and the general themes of identity and pluralism that are being excluded.

Candis Watts Smith 
Michael, some of the thing that stood out to me, as Jonathan was speaking is you know, history doesn’t repeat but it rhymes. And you know what we’re seeing is that there have been times before where there are reasons where people want to diminish voices around some number of topics. And here, as the demography of the United States is changing the demographic profile that you know, Americans are becoming more accepting of marriage equality, are becoming more cognizant of mental health matters are, in some ways, trying to take steps towards racial egalitarianism and becoming, you know, a true multiracial democracy, there are plenty of people who find those values problematic. And, you know, turning to education is one way where people can say it’s protecting children and protecting my child, because that is always a hard argument to fight against. Everybody wants to do the best for their children. But what we get lost in that argument is that we are in community with each other. So what the interest of your one child is, is not more important than the interests of the larger community, in our community, nationally speaking, is one that is diverse, it is one that there are a multiplicity of experiences and perspectives that have to be represented and, you know, ideally, all of our institutions, including schools, so I don’t know, I don’t have a way to round out the point. Except to say that, yeah, you’re right. I mean, libraries in particular, are places where our public spaces where people should be able to, you know, access a variety of materials, it’s a place where we, it’s a place where we share, it’s one of the few places that we share. And so it’s dangerous to try to exclude, systematically, various groups, perspectives, identities, yes, and so on.

Michael Berkman
So libraries are run by librarians and librarians are professionals. It’s not like these books are just flying in from outer space and ended up on the shelves, and designed to offend the children in the school. That’s not how things work librarians very carefully, cultivate what’s in their libraries based on, you know, their understanding and their expertise about what’s appropriate at different levels of schools. And then schools also have processes and procedures that they’ve put in place to do this. So that there can be input from health perfect, from various kinds of professionals, from parents, from other community, people from the teachers, and of course, from the librarians. And what’s happening here that we see so much of these days is just a complete dismissal of these, what I would call democratic processes, legitimate democratic processes. I mean, this is how a pluralistic democracy works through differences. And you have procedures, you have institutions designed to do this, you bring in various points of view.

Candis Watts Smith 
And, you know, I think that like, if you if people want to challenge, that’s fine, I think that challenges are fine. But then if we have a process that is designed to, you know, put the challenge in deliberation and have larger conversation, and have community input, that’s one thing, but to come on high, and just kind of pull books off the shelf is quite opposite of law in order, it’s opposite of going through the proper channels to make a significant change in your community. I mean, for a candidate to say I want to ban these 850 books. It’s already a signal again, to go back to the point that I made earlier, it’s not about the books, right, you know, I was reading this article about, like, you know, Jonathan’s in Texas, and there is a band of this author name, Jerry, Jerry craft, and he has these two books. One of them is like called new kid, but you know, it’s like this black kid and like middle school, he’s the protagonist and my son, and I were reading that book. And it’s so funny because there are certain things that are so specific to black culture that are in there and just like if you if you know, and that means it’s funny to you, but it’s very awesome to see yourself and your family depicted in a book that you can get from your or school or your public library. And so like this, basically a key word search about black kid, you know, or something like that will eliminate is essentially going to remove that book from, from a state who is like almost majority minority. You know, it’s infuriating.

Michael Berkman
This conversation also, I mean, I makes me think I hope people will take the time to look at the database of books, and I’m sure Jenna will will link to in the in the pages and just go through some of those titles and think about how many of them you might have read, or how many of them you think just seem utterly and completely, you know, appropriate for children to be reading that are now being excluded. And, you know, the fact that it happened like it’s a lot of it’s happening right now in York, Pennsylvania. And the fact that it’s happening in New York doesn’t mean it’s going to stay in New York, we know full well, that it’s going to spread like wildfire.

Candis Watts Smith 
So that’s that’s the other troubling part is that we’re just kind of seeing this nationalization of what should be local locally, authentically local discussions and deliberation,

Michael Berkman
But not only local, I mean, localism in school districts in American school districts has a long and rich history, right? I mean, we believe in the idea that schools should be controlled at the local level, but we put the responsibility for education at the state level, it’s in all the state constitutions recognize a responsibility to education, and all of the state’s produce standards of some sort or another, that are telling schools within their state what they think it is that their children need to learn. And you had all the school board elections. So you have all these, you’re gonna have a lot of new people coming in. And, you know, we don’t know anything. Speaking of political scientists, here, ganas, we don’t know anything systematically about who these people are, and what they’re what they’re about whether or not there was anything really unusual about this election, or if we only thought there was something unusual about this round of school board elections. But yes, I agree. I mean, some of these things are being institutionalized into state laws. It’s a state standards, and potentially authored school boards as well.

Candis Watts Smith 
Thank you, Jenna, for an excellent interview with Jonathan Friedman. I’m just really delighted that he was able to join us and tell us about the work that PEN America is doing around the issues of First Amendment around both bands, so on and so forth. And thank you, Michael. As always, I’m Candis Watts Smith and for Democracy Works

Michael Berkman
And I’m Michael Berkman. Thanks for joining us.

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