Everyone has a moment when a world event occurs, great or horrific, when they remember exactly where they were at the time. Some such moments for me… The Kennedy assassination and my 7th grade science class; the space shuttle explosion and a high school library; the ball going through Bill Buckner’s leg for a Mets World Series win and my darkened home living room illuminated by the television; and again in our living room, this time brighter, as Barack Obama was declared the winner of the 2008 presidential race. Such moments can be triggered by other events over time bringing you back to those instances.
I find the surge in efforts to ban books in school curriculums and libraries along with the incursion on individual rights under the guise of parental control bring me back to a moment when one of the best basketball players in the world announced he had HIV/AIDS. At the time I was the K-12 Director for Health Education along with athletics and physical education for a New Hampshire school district made up of nine rural communities. I was in my car traveling between schools while listening to a live press conference regarding Magic Johnson’s sudden retirement from the NBA. My mind immediately jumped to thinking about the consequences on local health education issues as well as state policies and guidelines regarding sexual health education. We had built good relationships and trust with parent and religious constituencies with our health curriculum, but this news inserted a hyper level of concern and oversight for what was being taught in health classes over the subsequent months and years.
It seems a through-line exists from the HIV/AIDS era’s hysteria to today’s conservative adult and political agendas for suppressing curriculum and limiting essential knowledge in health, science, and history. Certainly, the arc to ban books for adolescents spans the decades and include authors such as Judy Blume, Jason Reynolds, Margaret Atwood, and Toni Morrison to name a few. Supercharging the book banning efforts are politically motivated endeavors to limit or ban speech connected with sexual and emotional health and emerging LGBTQ issues as evidenced through changes in instructional and curriculum policies from the AIDS era to Florida’s most recent ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. Florida isn’t alone in these efforts to silence voices or rewrite history. According to a recent NBC News report, 26 states have banned or opened an investigation of over 1,100 books over the last 18 months.