Teachers express concern about rise of book challenges

Aaron Murphy, Staff Writer

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed into a law a bill that allows parents to challenge books they deemed inappropriate to have in classrooms or school media centers. Since then, the conservative organization Moms For Liberty has created an 111-page document with hundreds of books they encourage parents to challenge. In November 2022, the Brevard County School Board mandated that challenged books be taken off shelves until a decision can be made on their appropriateness. English teacher Tamara Reis said these policy changes have proven difficult.

“I went through every single book and had to check it against a Brevard Public Schools online list,” Reis said. “We were told that if it was not on that list, it could not be in our library. It is shocking how many books were not on that list.”

Reis said these bans have dystopian undertones.

“As an English teacher, a lifelong learner and someone who loves to read, it is troubling that what we’ve read about previously in dystopian novels is actually coming true,” Reis said. “Books are being banned, which is outrageous because America’s whole philosophy is freedom of speech.”

Moms for Liberty calls for bans on books it considers inappropriate due to sexually explicit content. History teacher Kirk Murphy said he can understand being careful about what books are on campus.

“When I worked at Southwest Middle School it was the second year the school had opened, and the library was still getting massive amounts of books in,” Murphy said .” One of the books that got in was a pop-up book of sex, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Whoever made the order obviously was not thinking and didn’t realize it was a pop-up book, so yeah, that book was taken off the shelves. It needed to be taken off the shelves, so sometimes censorship is the right thing.”

Among Moms for Liberties’ list are books including “The Kite Runner” and “Slaughterhouse-Five”, which contain graphic depictions of drug use and sexual interactions. 

According to Orlando News 6, out of the books banned in central Florida, 41 percent had LGBTQ themes, 40 percent had characters of color as primary or prominent secondary characters, 21 percent dealt with race or racism and 22 percent contained sexual content.

“If you have a book in an elementary school that was too sexually explicit, I understand taking that book out,” Murphy said. “But just taking out a book because it has ideas that you think are not what you like, be it Critical Race Theory or LGBTQ, seems a little more dictatorial. I would like to think that Moms for Liberty has the best of intentions in mind, but sometimes I’m not sure they do.”

“Roar” reached out to a member of Moms For Liberty for comment and she did not respond.

Reis said she is concerned that censorship is becoming problematic outside of the school environment.

“The trouble with censorship is that it brings fear, and as soon as you have fear, conversations get shut down,” she said. “People get afraid, on the right and the left, that their opinion is going to be mocked, and we are getting to the point of possibly violent interaction because of it.”

AP U.S. History teacher Athena Pietrzak said she is worried where censorship might lead.

“Censorship results in a situation like North Korea,” she said. “North Korea comes from micromanagement, government control and a constant push to put an ideology behind somebody, and that is why you don’t want censorship.”

Pietrzak called current level of censorship is unprecedented.

“It has only been this bad during wartime,” she said. “It is like the Alien and Sedition Acts or World War One levels.”

Murphy said the current movement parallels Cold War censorship.

“This reminds me of Joseph McCarthy level Red Scare kind of censorship, and I definitely see some tie-ins to censorship during the world wars,” he said. “There are some dystopian elements to what we are doing.”

Pietrzak said censorship does have legitimate place in society.

“I don’t think censorship should be completely stopped,” she said. “There should be control of some sort. Now who has the control is where the issue comes in: Should it be the government, the parents, or the school board? I do think there should be censorship, but I do also think there should be freedom of speech. We need to approach this on a case-by-case basis.”

Murphy said even though censorship has a purpose it often is misapplied.

“I think we are better off without censorship, and that goes for both sides,” he said. “Censorship is stopping bomb-making plans online. Do I think there should be bomb-making plans online? No, so I think censorship has a purpose, but that purpose has been perverted, and I’m not sure we are better off as a society because of it.”