Editorial: Censorship won’t create the America that lives on hope

So far, thankfully, schools and libraries on the East End have not been targeted by self-appointed watchdogs who take it upon themselves to tell librarians to remove “objectionable” books from the shelves.

But in other parts of the country, this is happening with increasing regularity. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis’s actions against education have led libraries and school districts to respond with a broad censorship effort — profoundly contradicting how America is supposed to work.

One Florida county recently released its list of books it wants removed from school libraries. Among the authors to be censored: Jodi Picoult, Toni Morrison and James Patterson, according to a story in The Washington Post.

On the list was Picoult’s “The Storyteller,” in which the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor encounters an elderly SS veteran. In an interview with the Post, Picoult said the proposed ban is a “shocking breach of freedom of speech and freedom of information.” 

The American Library Association’s list of books targeted by censors around the country includes “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck and “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison. A picture book, “Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates” has been removed from a number of school libraries in Florida. Someone, or some group, has found something objectionable in Clemente’s experiences as a Black Latino working his way up in baseball during the civil rights era.

Last week, Ken Burns, the celebrated documentary filmmaker who specializes in the American story, sharply criticized bills before the Florida legislature as a “threat to our republic.”

According to media reports, Burns said, “These bills that DeSantis and others are doing limit our ability to understand who we are and are not inclusive. They are exclusive. Their narrowing the focus of what is and isn’t American history is terrifying. It feels like a Soviet system.”

American history is often said to be “complicated.” It actually isn’t. The story is there for all who want to study it. But it is multi-layered and needs to be taught as such. The Founding Fathers fought Great Britain to create an independent country where “all men are created equal,” yet about half of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention collectively enslaved more than 1,000 men, women and children. Studying this contradiction — between the ideal of individual freedom and allowing slavery to continue — and talking about it in a high-school history class, is enriching. It is America, after all. This is who we are. We are better for knowing it, as is the country itself.

Who is being served if we censor the parts that the deliberately uninformed call “critical race theory” and say are hurtful to teach? Hurtful to whom? What, exactly, do they think critical race theory is? 

And why do these people want government to make decisions on what American history is and isn’t? It is illustrative about where we are in America when people who long railed against government intervention in various aspects of American life now advocate for government intervention into history curriculum.

In America today, many politicians talk all day long about culture issues. They need to focus on the country and its people. It is often said a rising tide raises all boats. That is a good ideal to follow for how to govern. Banning books, limiting the conversation about American history and outlawing drag shows won’t get us there.

If you have been following the environmental disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, caused by the derailment of a train carrying highly toxic chemicals, you know there are places in our country in desperate need of help. 

If a politician pushing culture war issues went there and asked a family who has lost their home and can’t drink their water what issues are important to them, it is doubtful banning books from their children’s school libraries would make the top 20.

Communities like East Palestine don’t need to know which state in the union is where “woke” goes to die. They need to be reassured their communities are where hope will live.