PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel Responds to Remarks by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that Book Bans Are a ‘Hoax’
March 8, 2023
PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel tweeted the thread below in response to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ remarks that book bans were a “hoax,” and that only “pornographic and inappropriate” materials have been removed from Florida classrooms.
Gov @RonDeSantisFL says book bans are a “hoax” and the only books being removed from classrooms are “pornographic and inappropriate” materials that were “snuck into” classrooms and libraries to “sexualize” students and violate education standards.
No one advocates porn or salacious material in the classroom. Not all books are geared to all age groups. Teachers and librarians use professional judgment to assess age appropriateness, and should listen to parents and students. That’s how the system has always worked.
If we take the Governor at his word that he is simply aiming to protect students from porn and sexualized texts, then the approaches and methods being legislated statewide go far beyond any conceivable effort in service of that goal.
Fla has passed vague laws limiting what books can be in schools and libraries with stiff penalties. Every book in a school must be reviewed by a “media specialist” and schools were told to “err on the side of caution.” Thus the empty shelves.
Have some schools been overly cautious? Quite possibly. But that is how censorship works — it sweeps up not just material directly banned but also exerts a well-documented “chilling effect” whereby a wider circle of books and ideas are off limits to avoid risk of punishment.
Some districts are already being sued under these new laws. Some activists and parents take the laws as license to demand removal of any books they don’t care for. Districts feel pressure to relent.
You can see how we define a book ban here. We recognize that others may have different definitions, and have focused ours on situations where objections or prohibitions result in previously available books being taken off limits.
While we don’t have a complete count for the current school year, we have heard from teachers, librarians, parents and administrators about scores of new bans. Some are responses to formal challenges– others are preemptive and driven by caution and fear.
These removals are occurring without the review processes that are best practices to address age appropriateness or other objections. Sometimes they happen based on single complaints by people who haven’t not even read the books at issue.
Books banned include Booker Prize winner The God of Small Things, books by Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, bestselling novelist @jodipicoult and many others. Biographies of Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente were kept off shelves in one district for almost a year.
Governor DeSantis doesn’t deny that these books have been withheld. He focuses on a handful of titles that may spark more debate over their content or age appropriateness. Some are books librarians have called “life saving” for certain kids.
Children have a right to read, and our public schools should be places where they are taught the sacred values of freedom of speech and thought, not environments where politicians dictate what books can and cannot be read.
At @penamerica we agree with Gov DeSantis that “education is about the pursuit of truth.” Under the 1st Amendment, the route to truth is paved by freedom of speech, not by book bans, prohibitions on teaching and learning, and banishing ideas those in power find unpalatable.
Governor DeSantis rightly does not want to be thought of as a book banner. To avoid that, he should make clear that he will respect children’s right to read and that no teacher, principal or librarian needs to worry about being punished because a child picked up a book.