Teaching empathy is a threat, that's why they want to ban books.
At a time of significant violence in America's schools, the worst thing that a child could learn from school is how to be empathetic and caring towards others. At least, that is what many book banners would have you believe lately.
In fact, there's video of them saying exactly that.
Recently on TikTok, a video went viral where a representative for the conservative political action group Mothers For Liberty made it very clear how uncomfortable she was with her children being taught empathy.
Watch this incredible video of Moms 4 Liberty arguing AGAINST empathy.
She specifically cited ‘social emotional learning’ which she referred to as a ‘trojan horse to teach CRT.’ Never mind that CRT is not being instructed at any school that is not a college university, Moms For Liberty has stated they do not want their children learning how to understand their feelings in school.
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Empathy is a threat to these groups. They view empathy… as a threat.
A politician in Montana who opened up about having a child who was suicidal openly stated that when asked if she would do anything to help her child, the answer was no. A lack of empathy. A colorful sign on the home of a special needs child that read ‘Ban Hate, Not Books,’ was burned down in Mississippi after standing for months. A lack of empathy. Mothers Against Liberty posted a video of Andrew Tate, who is on trial for sex trafficking, because he came out against the LGBTQ community.
It’s true these are small, but vocal minorities. These viewpoints do not represent mainstream views or the political beliefs of a majority of Americans.
But these small groups have power, and they are using it to silence the voices and freedoms of others. The push to ban books and close libraries is spreading. We have seen it be unfortunately effective in states all around America, from Texas and Florida to Missouri, Wyoming, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
This is not just an effort to dictate what people can and cannot read, it is an effort to suppress the teaching of empathy. To literally stop people from learning how to care about one another.
At a time where violence has become all too commonplace, and schools especially are no longer considered the safe spaces we once thought them to be, now more than ever we need every tool available to us to combat this scourge. And slowing the spread of violence starts with a more empathetic community. It starts with people who care about one another.
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And that starts with books.
Book bans in schools not only have a chilling effect on teachers, but one of their more sinister impacts is lessening how much children learn about empathy in school. A good number of documented studies have demonstrated that people who read, have less hate. That is because reading, particularly literary fiction, creates an environment where the reader has to imagine themselves in the shoes of someone else. And through this we, in effect, get to practice empathy. The more you read, the more this skill comes naturally.
Violence has become an unfortunate reality in much of American society. Children prepare active shooting drills so they are ready in the event of a shooter stalking the halls of their school. More than 50% of school shootings are perpetrated by one of the students themselves, and among all school shootings another 50% are related to what you might call a ‘crisis of empathy.’ They are grievance-driven, suicide attempts, or targeted attacks against someone the shooter knows (source: GAO.gov).
People who are more empathetic are far less likely to commit acts of violence, much less atrocities like school shootings. And empathy is a learned skill.
But politicians are taking away the tools to teach empathy.
This is not a particularly new idea, either. A study conducted by professor of psychology, Keith Oatley, and several other cognitive scientists in 2006 demonstrated the link between reading and empathy. Professor Oately summarized it best.
“Reading novels enables us to become better at actually understanding other people and what they’re up to (…) [With] someone who you’re married to ... or a close friend, you can actually get to know them. Reading fiction enables you to sample across a much wider range of possible people and come to understand something about the differences among them.”
Books are a tool to combat societal violence. The more educated and the better read a community is, the lower crime is in that community. Other studies have shown there is a direct link between illiteracy and incarceration. In fact, 60% of the adults in the criminal justice system are functionally illiterate. It’s even starker among juveniles where 85% of children who are in detention cannot read or write above a fourth-grade level. Two thirds of the adult population in prison have never completed high school.
Libraries stoke literacy. They give people of all economic backgrounds access to learning materials, courses and services that help them improve literacy and pull themselves up. Data shows that when library funding goes UP, so does library usage. Studies estimate that for every 1% graduation rates increase, the United States saves $1.4 billion dollars in criminal justice costs. Literacy leads to higher graduation, higher graduation leads to decreased crime.
Banning books makes children less empathetic and less sage.
Strangely enough, book bans actually conflict with the rationale that a lot of politicians seem to employ when the topic of gun control comes up. We have seen a number of acts of horrific violence in recent months, and all too often, there is a common refrain afterward. We are told that banning guns simply doesn’t work. That criminals are going to get guns no matter what, and that bans will have no effect on slowing down the violence. Even measures like expanding background checks or red flags, apparently, would have no impact on mass shootings.
Why, then, should we be expected to believe that book bans would protect children any more from those books’ contents?
There is no use in looking for logical consistency in these arguments. The simple fact is that certain politicians and political groups actually do not want children to learn empathy as part of their schooling. And they are not hiding this fact, it is not something they deny. They are proud that they are pushing back against the teaching of empathy.
Children should be learning to read, and to be empathetic. Not how to hide from a shooter or administer first aid to a friend who has been shot in the classroom.
Like the Randolf family in St. Tammy Parish said, before book banners burned their sign to the ground; “Ban Hate, Not Books.”