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The Key West Mystique

Key West Island News

 

Key West Island News connects Key West residents and friends of the island, fosters our One Human Family culture and advances understanding of shared goals for our island community

Florida book bans

Florida book bans | Cereal boxes to e-books. Just read

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

04/27/2024

It’s doubtful I read Grace Metalious’s 1956 feminist emancipation novel, “Peyton Place,” when I was 6. For sure, I hadn’t turned 15 and if memory serves, I was likely about 12. Florida book bans likely would have removed that book right quickly.

The runaway bestseller — which tackled murder, social hypocrisy, rape, incest, class inequality and women’s roles in between a handful of pretty tame sex scenes — was still on banned-book lists when I picked up a paperback copy from my grandmother’s bedroom bureau.

I was happily exploring small-town dysfunction, curled up on her living room couch, when my dad walked past, raised his eyebrows, turned and said, “Mom, what were you thinking letting her read that book? Don’t you think she’s a little young?”

God bless my Grandma Pansy, because her response shaped my reading habits thereafter. “Let the child read,” she said with a no-nonsense nod to her son. “The more she reads, the better she’ll understand the world around her. She’ll figure out for herself what’s worth reading and what’s not.”

Dad shrugged and didn’t argue. I kept reading. It should be noted that my mother, a librarian and voracious reader herself, handed me a “where do babies come from” book when I was 8 years old, something that made me a hit at sleepovers for years to come.

I’m never without something to read, even if it’s the fine print on cereal boxes. Thank the geeky gods for my Kindle and for the internet and Google search. I’ve read my way through family vacations, Cubs games, dishwashing duties, 2 a.m. baby feedings and in church on Sundays.

So I don’t get book bans. Don’t cater to a book, play, sculpture or piece of music? Simple. Don’t read, watch, look or listen. Just leave all that alone; I’ll make my own choices, thank you.

I especially don’t like book bans whose sole purposes are empowering faux-aggrieved busybodies to exercise outsized censorship and making professional life miserable for teachers, principals and librarians. Like in Florida.

Key West Island News

Florida book bans | Legislation goes sideways

In 2022 the Florida Legislature, delighted to give favorite-son Gov. Ron DeSantis anti-woke fodder for his ill-fated presidential campaign, passed a law making it easy for Floridians to ban books in schools. All it took was a single complaint to the school or school board and, voila, that book vanished from shelves faster than a can of Pringles during a movie.

Because the law was so vague on how the whole complain-pull-review-ban-or-reshelve process was supposed to work and because school folks could be legally punished for doing the wrong thing even though there was no clear definition of “wrong thing,” schools took to just preemptively emptying shelves.

Let this statistic sink in: In the first half of the 2023-24 school year, Florida accounted for 72 percent of all books pulled from the nation’s schools. That makes the score Florida: 3,135; the rest of the country: 1,214.

“The majority of books that we see being removed are books that talk about LBTQ+ identities, that include characters of color, that talk about race and racism, that include depictions of sexual experiences in the … broadest interpretation of that understanding,” said Kasey Meehan, Pen America’s Freedom to Read program director.

With his presidential campaign over and the Florida book-banning debacle gone sideways, DeSantis last week signed new legislation that limits people who don’t have kids in school to one book-ban demand per month. Nice try, I guess, since most of the demands since 2022 came from non-school people egged on by groups like Moms for Liberty.

But there’s a catch. The State Board of Education has in the past two years encouraged school officials to err on the side of caution, meaning pull any books that could, might, someday, somehow be deemed offensive. Now the same board says principals could lose their education certification if they don’t allow access to appropriate books.

Mary, Joseph and the Wee Donkey, what is a principal to do? The 2022 and 2024 Florida book-ban laws are disruptive political theater and vague, veiled solutions in search of a nonexistent problem. They’re certainly not about ensuring kids read good books or explore the magical literary world.

I can’t imagine the just-among-us frustrations shared by teachers, principals and librarians as they tiptoe through this political trap. The governor and his minions need a few lessons from my Grandma Pansy.

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