What Is Ron DeSantis Thinking?
Is Ron DeSantis trying to remove all books from all libraries?
Let’s face it. News publications are getting confused about the Florida governor’s “now you see it, now you don’t” education policies and his perceived need to keep more school library books away from the kids who want to read them.
DeSantis is cited in respected publications as a “flip-flopper” and, on certain occasions, appears to be bending the truth into outright lies. So instead of focusing on DeSantis’s broad array of political maneuvers, we’ll stick with his shifting policies on education and what children should and should not read.
DeSantis on Education, Pandemics, and Theme Parks
Moves on education by DeSantis and his administration have drawn widespread criticism from the left, along with numerous educators and school employees. As a University of Florida librarian told ABC News:
"It is becoming increasingly untenable, particularly for marginalized people, but for many people to work in higher education because there’s so much hostility from the government, which infringes on our academic freedom. Still, it’s also an infringement on our First Amendment rights."
Besides the twists and turns DeSantis has taken in educational policy, he has raged against Covid-19 restrictions and raised questions about vaccines — despite medical evidence of their safety and effectiveness. Later, DeSantis played a significant role in a long-running feud with Disney.
The Florida governor continues to bolster his efforts at reforming the state’s schools and colleges to reinforce his national profile before campaigning goes into high gear preceding the 2024 presidential election.
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DeSantis claims that books are removed from Florida classrooms and libraries for being “pornographic, violent or inappropriate.” PEN America disagrees and has data to prove it.
Here are some examples, with descriptions and commentary:
- Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente biographies that Duval County acknowledged removing from shelves for almost a year, as well as 176 others from a diverse book collection.
- And Tango Makes Three is a children’s book about two male penguins raising a chick.
- When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball was temporarily pulled from open shelves after one person complained about it.
According to The Washington Post, virtually no one advocates for pornography in schools. However, Florida laws signed by DeSantis are so broad they could encompass many books, such as classics like Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird. Along with a recent directive to “err on the side of caution,” some schools are doing exactly that — with disastrous results for the freedom to read. “Come on. I mean, we know Roberto Clemente,” DeSantis said. In his exact words:
“I think the school unions are involved. I don’t think parents are challenging that. I think they’re doing it unilaterally to try to create an issue. Having young kids engaging in sex acts? You’re going to compare that to a biography of Roberto Clemente? Give me a break.”
Some say DeSantis is confused about which books are appropriate, for which ages, and who should make those decisions. But it’s not just related to his recently signed education laws. It’s a problem in many places throughout the country and was already an issue in Florida before the new laws.
DeSantis’s administration seems to have overlooked ways to implement the new guidelines. While the governor has tried to insist that a new law he signed on curriculum transparency is not applicable to school libraries, the text of the law does cover library books. Plus, his education department confirmed that the law covers classroom libraries and all school media collections from kindergarten through grade twelve.
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We’re Not Calling Your Bluff
Expect more restrictions on library catalogs and databases if we don’t stop them soon.
Republican lawmakers nationwide are proposing legislation to target online library databases and library management technology — tools created by large companies to catalog millions of books, journals, and articles that students use in assignments — or at least used to.
This proposed legislation — already enacted in Utah and Tennessee, is about to become law in Oklahoma and has been introduced in at least six other states. Overall, it will require databases to remove and block student access to material perceived to be obscene, pornographic, sexually exploitative of children, or “harmful to minors” — which could describe a significant number of texts.
Of course, educators and librarians say the new laws are superfluous since federal child protection and internet privacy laws passed decades ago require database companies to ensure their materials are age-appropriate. But these companies have been doing this successfully for at least a quarter century.
In the future, getting into college could mean actually being in college to get the information needed for recruiters and admissions officers to consider you for admission. But shouldn’t you have gotten that information in high school?
Palo Alto, CA, school librarian Tasha Bergson-Michelson says school library databases are essential for students learning about the world and gaining the data-processing skills they’ll need in the information-filled twenty-first century. Moreover, she points out that today’s online library databases make paywalled content, like newspaper and magazine articles, accessible to all students.
Is DeSantis Confusing Himself, His Party, and Others?
In March 2023, Gov. DeSantis and Manny Diaz, the state education commissioner, blamed districts for overreacting and removing books like those about Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron in a press conference about “the book banning hoax.” They also denied reports of mass book bans in Florida and failed to address mass removals and reviews of books due to state laws and Department of Education guidelines.
Florida school districts are taking widely varying approaches to a Republican-backed law for “curriculum transparency” signed last year by Gov. DeSantis. The law, HB 1467, requires districts to catalog every book on their shelves and put a formal review process in place for complaints.
As reported by the [Daily] Beast, in his new book The Courage to Be Free, DeSantis “use[s] the terms ‘woke’ and ‘gender ideology’ 46 and 10 times respectively, both of which could constitute ‘divisive concepts’ the governor has argued should stay out of curricula up to the college level”.
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