Politics

Guest Column: The Real ‘Hostility’ In America’s ‘Book Banning’ Debate

Protecting children from obscenity is not discriminatory …

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by REBECCA BLACKBURN HINES

Recently, a letter by the South Carolina Association of School Librarians (SCASL), was circulated to school boards across the state expressing alarm at the recent surge in attempts to ban and censor school library and classroom materials. The four-page letter (.pdf) discussed SCASL’s policy positions, outlined a recent censorship issue in Forsyth County, Georgia, and assured school board members of the resources they can provide for support so that “our schools can learn from mistakes made in Georgia and avoid the unnecessary costs of legal issues.” As a local school board trustee, I do my best to remain even-keel and keep an open mind. But, as a parent, some things cannot be left unaddressed.

The subject of “book banning” perplexes me. I understand there are many varying perspectives of what constitutes “appropriate” material in a school setting. There is a real fear that lines can be blurred and that the First Amendment precludes removing books on the basis that the subject matter is offensive to some groups. Every time a parent expresses a concern about a certain book, the naysayers claim race, religion or ideology as a reason for the concern. To prove the idea of “banning books” as ridiculous, these critics rally around previously banned books like The Giving Tree, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, Romeo and Juliet – and even the Bible.  At a recent school board meeting in my district, a parent read the names of several popular characters and book titles during public participation; all the books were apparently previously banned elsewhere, the majority of which are popular titles in schools today. I don’t mention this speaker in a negative context; I appreciate and respect what the speaker was saying. Indeed, my own child is named after an author of a once controversial text mentioned above. And, for the record, my district hasn’t banned any books during my tenure; regardless of what some national talking heads may say.

However, when the subject of obscenity and sexually explicit material arises, the above-referenced arguments miss the mark and are typically taken completely out of context. With textbooks, library books, supplemental materials or anything else that can be presented in a school environment, it is imperative that each tool is capable of being tied to state standards and curriculum.  Without meeting this requirement, the obscene material doesn’t belong in public schools – whether it’s the classroom or the library. Period.

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After several parents expressed concerns about library books containing sexually explicit and obscene material, I attempted to address this issue back in February 2022 in a letter to Governor Henry McMaster and then-State Superintendent Molly Spearman. Parents read passages taken from books confirmed to be within District 5’s high school libraries that were so offensive our Superintendent asked the Board of Trustees to redact the audio before publishing the meeting video online. The District disclosed to parents that YouTube would not allow the audio to be published because it did not comply with their community guidelines for an educational entity in which “sexually explicit language or narratives” is prohibited. Understandably, many parents expressed their frustration over the contradictions between allowing obscene material in school libraries that are not allowed to be presented at school board meetings.

The letter was purely a request for guidance, clarity and advocacy to address ambiguities about what constitutes “obscenity” within the resources provided in our public schools. While U.S. Supreme Court precedent holds that local school boards may not remove books from school libraries because they simply “dislike the ideas contained in those books,” the Court also recognized that school boards could remove books that were “pervasively vulgar” or lacked “educational suitability.” I made it clear – I am not in favor of “banning books” solely due to moral or political differences and other matters of opinion, because it is imperative that we encourage a student’s ability to develop critical thinking skills. Literacy proficiency is a crucial area of need in our public schools; our students need access to a variety of literary resources. Nevertheless, parents, including myself, strongly believe that materials containing obscenity require a different standard.

Ironically, this letter resulted in two things. First, the response received from the S.C. Department of Education (SCDOE) outlined an updated book review policy that had been disseminated to the local districts. Of note, the actual issue that was raised – asking for clarity regarding obscenity, was not directly addressed. Second, a fellow board member (unsuccessfully) tried to censure me for asking questions on board letterhead. Because … paper matters. I digress.

The policy response from the SCDOE was disheartening, although we ultimately still updated our own policy to reflect the model policy they provided. I have heard from numerous parents that the method of challenging a book is insincere and will only create issues for their child. Still, I do recognize the need for a process. 

This brings us full circle … to the letter from SCASL.

SCASL outlines a recent situation in Forsyth County, Georgia, in which several complaints were made about books relating to sexually explicit content, many involving LGBTQ+ and people of color. The school district had a system in which multiple committees were involved in reviewing these books. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) intervened and announced findings against the school district. Of note, the findings “are a result of the hostile environment created during the process of the book challenges, not about the book challenges themselves.” The findings aren’t about the actual book and refuse to acknowledge whether the material is explicit. Now, any challenge on how a district handles that process is under greater scrutiny with respect to protected classes including students who are LGBTQ+ and students of color.

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RELATED | PARENTS DESERVE FREEDOM OF CHOICE

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Therefore, the new standard in which to determine a book challenge related to sexually explicit and obscene material is whether it creates a hostile environment for a specific group … even though it has absolutely zero correlation to state standards in education. Furthermore, SCASL rejoices in OCR’s findings, recommending that “districts and boards should probably place more consideration on the emotional wellbeing of students rather than on attempts to pacify parents.”

And, just like that, SCASL declared a war against parents.

Why are parents mad? Because the rules aren’t consistent. First, they are told explicit materials aren’t in our schools – and are accused of inaccurately transposing media stories from other states into our South Carolina school districts. Then, they are told they must comply with the rules on challenging a book pursuant to district policy – in which a committee typically reviews the challenge and determines whether to remove or keep the challenged material, which is then subject to appeal through the board of trustees.

Now, that entire process is exacerbated with new recommendations – including one which implies if a parent cannot suggest a replacement for a challenged book on a topic like sexually explicit LGBTQ+ books, it should be a red flag for a district about a potential civil rights violation. Or, if parents challenge multiple books at once that it could potentially create a hostile environment for students represented by these books.

Smoke and mirrors, people. Smoke and mirrors. A hostile environment is created by insinuating parents are discriminating against any class of people, simply because they expect the schools their children are required to attend by law are not providing school-endorsed opportunities for their minors to be exposed to obscenity and sexually explicit materials. This isn’t an attack on a certain class of individuals or students. It isn’t an issue about sexual preferences, identity, race, religion, etc. The issue is about state standards, curriculum, and exposing minors to materials containing obscenity and extreme sexually explicit depictions. Whether the book is Gender Queer or Fifty Shades of Gray, the material does not belong in a public-school environment. We have public libraries, and my personal argument does not extend past the schoolhouse doors.

The amount of time we are forced to waste in order to protect our children from obscenity in schools is ridiculous. Why are we forcing children to grow up so fast, before ensuring that they are equipped with the basic skills to know how to be grown-ups? We need the General Assembly, the State Superintendent of Education, local school boards, and parents to work together to address ambiguities and draft legislation that will withstand constitutional scrutiny to protect the well-being of all students. It’s apparent that the current federal administration, OCR, and certain associations are unwilling to do so.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Rebecca Blackburn Hines (Provided)

Elected in 2020, Rebecca Blackburn Hines is the current chair of the School District 5 of Lexington & Richland Counties Board of Trustees. Rebecca works in small business economic development and resides in Chapin, S.C. with her husband and their three young children, ages nine, seven and five months. The opinions expressed in this column are hers, and do not reflect the views of the school district.

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13 comments

Woke Alert! Woke Alert! August 16, 2023 at 10:42 am

I love how the narrative gets pushed to evil books that mention a ding dong somewhere in them when they are out banning letters penned by MLK Jr, or books that mention anything about slavery that doesn’t somehow attempt to paint it in a good light.

It’s a shame conservatives don’t think the Great Replacement nonsense is obscene.

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The Colonel Top fan August 16, 2023 at 1:26 pm

Were that your strawman argument were true…

The author correctly states that this is not a “banning” issue, rather a determination of what’s appropriate in schools. The falderal about Florida’s “Just Say Gay” and “slavery was a good thing” proves the intentional misstatement of issues and exposes the deliberate move by liberals to shame anyone who disagrees with their opinion – no matter how misguided.

Books are NOT being banned – for every book supposedly “banned” by school boards, you can order a used copy on Amazon for about half price. As an example, one of the books that seems to be getting kicked out of school libraries is “This Book is Gay” (TBIG). TBIG can be had on Amazon for $11.69 (or $6.04 used) so it isn’t BANNED.

TBIG’s own notes say the book is appropriate for grades 10-12 but the Hillsborough County School Board was sued when they voted to remove the book, from all middle schools in Hillsborough County (even after leaving copies in the high school).

Meanwhile the hardback, eBook and audio version of TBIG is readily available from the Hillsborough County Public Library – but the book isn’t in the kids’ section of the library.

The falderal about slavery had nothing to do with books but with a history curriculm, written by African Americans, that accurately pointed out that some slaves, as a conditions of their slavery, learned skills that would later allow them to prosper as freedmen.

I’ll give you a historical example of this very idea from right here in South Carolina that occurred DURING the American (un)Civil War – Google Robert Smalls. Since I realize you’re probably too unintellectually curious to look it up, Smalls was a slave who served as the pilot of the CSS Planter, a confederate gunboat. He learned the skill of piloting the craft as a slave.

One night in May of 1862, Smalls smuggled his family and the families of other slave crew members aboard the Planter and headed to freedom out of Charleston Harbor. Upon reaching the Union blockade lines he turned the Planter over to the Union Commander along with info he gained on Charleton’s defense that allowed the Union to seize a key sea island. Smalls served the Union Navy as a pilot and “armed craft commander”. He grew quite wealthy after the war and later go on to be a state senator and US Rep for SC. South Carolina celebrates Robert Smalls Day every May 13.

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Observer (the real one) August 16, 2023 at 2:53 pm

Just glad these idiots self-owned themselves by

1: Bringing more attention and sales to the books they are trying to “ban”. You are correct, Amazon sales are up for the books they are trying to “ban”.

2: Getting the stupidass bible removed from school libraries for being everything they accuse other banned books of being.

“Conservatives” are rewriting the book on self-owning. They are true masters…lol

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Slavery Doesn't Need White KKKnights August 16, 2023 at 3:28 pm

People learning a skill that benefits them while enslaved is not justification for slavery. Benefiting from a learned skill is in spite of slavery.

People can learn without the threat of being whipped, beaten, hung or shot. They can learn without being treated as property. They can learn a lot better when they learn how to read and write, something slave owners actively hindered. They can benefit from those skills far better when they are free.

The battered wife doesn’t thank the abusive husband for toughening her up.

The only reason SC celebrates Robert Smalls Day is because the Union won. Confederate SC would have had him executed.

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#winning August 16, 2023 at 4:19 pm

Oh geez.

Making excuses for slavery being “helpful” to slaves is as about as dumb as it gets….but, by all means, keep talking like that.

You Republicans keeping on losing more and more elections is making America great!

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The Colonel Top fan August 17, 2023 at 7:49 am

Nowhere did I justify or excuse slavery and wow, neither does the Florida curriculum – but feel free to stick to your uninformed belief.

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? August 17, 2023 at 5:22 pm

from your post “DURING the American (un)Civil War”. What was “uncivil” about that war? Are you trying to say the war should not have been fought and slavery preserved? Do you want to spread some revisionist history about the war and slavery itself? Perhaps you are an adherent to the “Lost Cause”?

“The United Daughters of the Confederacy was a significant leader of the “Lost Cause,” a movement that revised history to look more favorably on the South after the American Civil War. Their work with local governments, education, and schoolchildren created a lasting memory of the Confederate cause, and those generations grew up to be the segregationists of the Jim Crow Era.”

Stay home August 16, 2023 at 1:01 pm

Becky, you can’t keep your kids ignorant and angry forever, no matter how hard you try.

Keep your religion and backwards values at home.

If you feel that as a parent you are being attacked because most mature adults don’t agree with your regressive ways, home school your children. Don’t force your crazy religion on everyone else.

Nobody is forcing their views on you. You just know your religious views can’t stand up to simple scrutiny from school children, when they are provided facts about the World around them.

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Stay stupid! August 16, 2023 at 1:10 pm

lol

Gotta love these crazed religious nutters, who claim to love America, use the same arguments that Putin and his government use to discriminate against LGBTQA+ peoples in their backwards, failing country.

Is it a coincidence or on purpose? Where does this Becky woman get her talking points?

As a Godly woman, enjoy follows the Bible, she surely isn’t thinking fur herself, right?

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Todd August 16, 2023 at 2:42 pm

They have straight up pornography at Airport High School. The AHS librarian has total control of it all, and the weak school administration does nothing about it. Pedophilia in plain sight.

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Inquiring Mind August 16, 2023 at 2:49 pm

Hey man, you can’t just level those claims without giving examples.

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Observer (the real one) August 16, 2023 at 2:55 pm

Yeah, the Bible is pornography for pedophiles.

Thank for sharing your personal struggles with all that, Todd.

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Duke August 16, 2023 at 4:27 pm

“And, for the record, my district hasn’t banned any books during my tenure; regardless of what some national talking heads may say.”

I guess that depends on what you mean by “banned”. The district did “ban” the book “Between the World and Me” from being taught in an AP Language classroom at Chapin High School.

do a Google search for – between the world and me district five

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