When someone on Twitter posted a list of 25 popular books that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had supposedly banned from the state’s public schools, people went crazy. The list included Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” and Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.”
Below is a screenshot of the list. How many of these books have you read? Have your children read most of them? What on earth is going on in Florida?
People familiar with DeSantis’s efforts to restrict classroom discussion of controversial topics had no trouble believing that he would try to prevent young people from reading controversial or challenging books. If DeSantis did draw up a list, these books might well be on it.
But the list is a fake, a clever satire.
Many people were fooled, including teacher union President Randi Weingarten and “Star Wars” actor Mark Hamill. Hamill’s screenshot of the list amassed more than 100,000 likes and 24,000 retweets.
(Add my name to the list of those who were taken in.)
Like all good satire, that fake list of banned books is rooted in truth, because book banning is real and growing. Florida school districts have banned around 200 books, according to a report published by PEN America, a nonprofit that tracks book banning in the U.S. Pen America ranks Florida third among US states for banning books, trailing only Texas and Pennsylvania.
PolitiFact, which exposed the fraud, provides context here. “Eight of the tweet’s 25 listed books were challenged in Florida’s Indian River County School District in February — “The Color Purple,” Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”; Alex Gino’s “George”; Judy Blume’s “Forever”; Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give”; Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner”; Jay Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why”; and Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”
The books were removed during an investigation, but the district later restored them, concluding they were appropriate for students.
Likewise, Walton County in the Panhandle temporarily removed 58 books, including “George,” “Forever,” “The Hate U Give,” “The Kite Runner,” “Thirteen Reasons Why” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” for review in April.”
At least in Nazi Germany, it was a short step from book banning to book burning….and beyond. Those who would restrict books and ideas here in the United States should not be in positions of authority. No one should be afraid of ideas.
As noted above, the most reliable source of banned books is PEN America, which has been tracking this phenomenon for years. Unfortunately, the movement seems to be picking up steam. Take a look….
Back to that list. Yes, it’s fake, but it is also a GREAT reading list for young people who want to explore essential questions:
What does it mean to be human?
How does one resolve tensions between self-interest and the needs of one’s community?
What is courage?
What is honor?
If we cannot trust 18-year-olds with complex ideas, should they be voting? As it happens, the politicians who want to control what young people read also would be happy if they did not vote.
However, that isn’t going according to plan because young people have been voting. Voter turnout among young people 18-29 jumped in 2020, according to CIRCLE (the Center for Information and Research in Civic Learning and Engagement) at Tufts University. “We estimate that 50% of young people, ages 18-29, voted in the 2020 presidential election, a remarkable 11-point increase from 2016 (39%) and likely one of the highest rates of youth electoral participation since the voting age was lowered to 18.”
But 50% means half of young people are NOT voting. It turns out that, if young people are registered, they are likely to vote, but not enough young people are registered. Laura Brill of the Civic Center wrote to political blogger Robert Hubbell on that point. (The emphases are mine.)
“With the school season starting, voter registration rates for the youngest voters remain shockingly low. According to our research, in many parts of the country, fewer than 25% of 18-year-olds are registered to vote. Another report shows that youth voter registration rates this summer were lower in many states than in 2018.
I know your readers are looking for effective ways to promote democracy, and referring high school students to our programs so they can run voter registration drives in their schools is one of the best ways there is. This can lead to hundreds of registrations in a single school. Roughly one million high school students will be old enough to vote in November. I’ve provided brief descriptions below in the hopes that you might let your readers know about these efforts.
High School Voter Registration Week (HSVRW, Sept. 19-23) is a national week of action for students around the country to register their classmates to vote. Students can take part in HSVRW by joining Future Voters Action Week or one of our one-hour workshops. Educators interested in registering their students are also welcome to attend!
Future Voters Action Week (FVAW) is a five-day virtual workshop that empowers high school students to spearhead their own advanced voter registration drives in their schools. The program enables students to finish the week with the team, strategy and resources they need to register their peers. Applications for Future Voters Action Week are here. Sessions start Aug. 29 and Sept. 12. We encourage students to apply now, as space is limited.
Best phone bank ever: We’re training volunteers to phone schools to raise awareness about High School Voter Registration Week, to encourage schools to participate and to find relevant contacts. Trainings are Wednesdays at 4:30pm PT / 7:30pm ET.“
I’m guessing that most of my readers are well beyond their teenage years. Maybe they (you) are grandparents, and, if that’s the case, please share the reading list-and the voting information–with your grandchildren.
Reading, thinking, and discussing tough issues: that’s always important. Voting this fall is as important as it has ever been in our nation’s history.