PRESS EDITORIAL: Americans want some discomfort in education

It has been confirmed: Most Americans think it is wrong to ban books in schools.

 This has likely been true for as long as public education has existed in this country. It only seems like breaking news now because it comes at a time when book banning is popping up like some sort of perverse fad in a number of school districts and state legislatures.        

The book banners get quite a bit of attention, but they represent a tiny, almost statistically invisible minority. This was confirmed by a CBS News Poll in February.

The survey found that 83% of Americans believe books should never be banned for criticizing U.S. history; 85% say books should not be banned because they have ideas people disagree with; and 87% oppose banning them because they depict slavery or discuss racism.        

An additional finding that is especially relevant to the times was that 76% of Americans believe that schools should be allowed to teach history and ideas that “might make some students uncomfortable.”

Student and parent discomfort was the announced rationale of a Tennessee school district’s decision to ban the graphic novel “Maus.” The school board cited a drawing of a partially nude woman’s suicide by hanging and several curse words as grounds to remove the book from its curriculum.

The book, for which its author, Art Spiegelman, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, is about an uncomfortable subject, the Holocaust. Spiegelman has personal knowledge of that subject. His parents were Polish Jews marked for extermination by the Nazis. His father survived the Holocaust. His mother was the suicide victim depicted in “Maus.”

The book is used in a schools across the country to teach students about the Holocaust. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum criticized its banning in Tennessee as an attempt to limit education about the World War II atrocity that killed more than 6 million Jews.              

Spiegelman is a famed cartoonist and editor, who has a distant connection to Ozaukee County. In the 1970s, some of his works were printed by Port Publications Inc. of Port Washington, the parent company of Ozaukee Press.

 In spite of the American public’s disdain for book banning, attempts at such censorship are increasingly appearing as part of a conservative political effort to restrict what public schools can teach.

The “Maus” ban was protested by a large number of parents in the affected school district, drew widespread condemnation and, ironically, resulted in a run on Spiegelman’s book that made it Amazon’s number one bestseller in late February. Undeterred, the Tennessee Legislature followed up with a bill that would prohibit textbooks that make students feel “discomfort” based on their race or sex.

In Iowa, a proposed law called the Parental Freedom in Education Act would allow parents to prevent the teaching of anything they find objectionable and inspect teachers’ lesson plans at any time.        In Georgia, a so-called Freedom Caucus was created with the goal of keeping “dangerous ideology” out of schools.

 Faint echoes of these efforts by interest groups to make what schools teach conform to their own views have been heard in this area. The bitter school board election in the Mequon-Thiensville School District last fall was tainted by political spending and rhetoric, including an attempt to stain incumbent school board members’ commitment to diversity and inclusiveness in M-T schools as evidence of the influence of critical race theory, a controversial social thesis not taught in K-12 schools but turned into a bogeyman by those seeking to restrict teaching of racial history.

Politics aside, school board elections are generally getting increased attention from a public that wants a stronger voice in school policies. An often heard theme is that parents always know what’s best for their children—even when it comes to what they are taught in school.

More robust engagement by the public in schools is welcome. Truth be told, many school boards, which have long served in relative obscurity, could benefit from a jolt of energy delivered by  questioning taxpayers.

But micromanaging curriculums at the whims of segments of the public has no place in this dynamic. Nor does interference by legislators toadying to their political bases by mandating what professional educators can and cannot teach.

Book banning goes hand and hand with those anathemas to education.

The fact that most Americans want no part of it is one of the enduring strengths of public education in this country.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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