Textbooks have been under assault in recent years from right-wing political fanatics targeting K-12 classroom material. Florida has been at the center of the movement, with so-called “anti-woke” efforts underway to remove references to race, gender, sexual orientation and other matters they find objectionable. Sometimes it’s a social studies book that makes reference to the police killing of George Floyd that causes the pearl-clutching, usually by white Christian evangelicals. But other topics, from English to math, have drawn the movement’s ire as well. Recently, state educators in Florida rejected two textbooks about the Holocaust. Under a law passed last year, Florida prohibits educators from making students feel guilt or shame in relation to historical events. The danger of this is not simply that certain school systems will ban books (although that alone should be concerning), but that publishers will voluntarily submit to ideological changes that will then become standardized in all their textbooks.
Recently, Gov. Wes Moore joined others in declaring enough was enough.
Moore and eight fellow Democratic governors signed a letter to textbook publishers calling on them not to “water down critical information to appeal to the lowest common denominator.” We could not agree more. Publishers could easily decide that it’s simply cheaper and more expedient to cave to demands from these culture warriors, particularly given how purging school classrooms and libraries of nonconforming views has become such a key issue for GOP presidential candidates, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But at what cost to generations to come? Americans need to forcefully resist what the Democratic governors accurately describe as a “sanitizing” campaign that would ultimately limit “the next generation’s ability to make informed decisions for themselves.”
Moore was joined by the governors of Delaware, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Washington, as well as New Jersey’s Phil Murphy who spearheaded the effort. The letter was also signed by the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Maryland’s 24 public school systems have not been under quite so heavy the barrage seen elsewhere but they’ve not been immune either. Books that touch on LGBTQ+ themes, for example, have been protested from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore. Even in Baltimore County, there was a push last year to take the book “Gender Queer,” a graphic memoir about a transsexual’s coming out to friends and family (and one of the most often challenged books in the nation), from school libraries. It did not succeed. Yet the censorship mob is bound to grow further in scale and ambition. As the American Library Association has observed, there has been a significant uptick in challenged and banned books nationwide with a record 2,571 titles considered for censorship last year, a 38% increase form the year before.
It’s one thing to have a coolheaded give-and-take over curriculum involving all stakeholders or for parents to ask their child be excluded from sexual education class perhaps for religious reasons. It’s quite another to lead a modern-day witch hunt that seeks to keep out of schools any serious consideration of such matters as slavery’s lasting impact on this nation. School board meetings should not be so dominated by ignorance and intolerance. Yet the more this movement succeeds, the more powerful it becomes.
Iif there’s a subject matter Maryland’s governor knows well, it’s the importance of a quality education. Not only is it a theme of the former Rhodes scholar’s bestseller, “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates,” but delivering a “world class public education” to every child in Maryland was a major plank in his campaign for office. He also has spoken out forcefully against book banning before, including at a commencement speech last month.
We would also like to acknowledge that a quality K-12 education is crucial to Maryland’s economic future. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, successful public schools can be a magnet to employers who rely on scientific and technical innovation, not only in attracting new businesses but in providing a workforce.
And while a letter is just a letter, we give the governor an “A” for effort and call on our elected leaders far and wide to do more to resist the know-nothings who seek to ban books and to ensure that students, regardless of race, gender and sexual orientation, can learn about our society, our history and our lives in a full and meaningful way. Let Maryland live up to its nickname as the “Free State” as a leading supporter of academic freedom.
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