Florida, along with other southern states, has risen to the top of news headlines over the passage of legislation that restricts books, curriculums and supposedly controversial topics from the state’s education system.
While these changes may seem far-removed from the happenings of a small northeastern college campus, these shifts toward censorship represent national trends that should trouble everybody, including our own community.
According to PEN America, Pennsylvania is third (short only to Florida and Texas) in the number of banned books since 2021.
Moms For Liberty, which originated in Florida, is one of several conservative groups growing across the country. In Pennsylvania, there are 27 active chapters, Northampton County being one of them.
The group was originally primed to oppose COVID-related mandates (masking, social distancing, etc.). Now under the guise of “parental rights,” the group is at the forefront of a movement targeting LGBTQ+ and race-related materials made available by schools.
Moms for Liberty is among the largest groups to be labeled extremist by The Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual “Year in Hate & Extremism” report.
The group is spearheading book-banning campaigns across the country by planting its members on school boards, claiming up to 275 favored board candidates in 2022.
“There are cases at school boards in North Carolina, for example, where Moms for Liberty showed up together with Proud Boys and were part of intimidating the school board,” Rachel Carroll Rivas, deputy director for research, reporting and analysis at the SPLC said to NPR.
And in the same way Moms for Liberty goes against the interests of marginalized students, they also don’t make room for the parents of those students — particularly those of LGBTQ or non-white communities.
But none of this is surprising when looking back at the history of similar movements.
In the 1920s, it was Daughters of the American Revolution vowing to keep America’s public schools “fundamentally Anglo-Saxon.”
In the 1960s, it was Norma Gabler combing through American textbooks and bending them to a conservative lens.
In the 1970s, it was Alice Moore preaching that public schools jeopardized children’s patriotism and respect for authority.
These efforts caught wind of national attention and attracted even more radical extremists. In the case of Moore, her rhetoric was the spark of a series of shootings and bombings surrounding schools. Even the Ku Klux Klan adopted Moore’s mantras.
Moms for Liberty already leans into social conservatism and relations with alt-right groups. It could be a matter of time before their presence is even more menacing to the future of American students.
“We’re thinking about the kinds of parents — parents of LGBTQ students, parents of Black students who want to hear the full story of the history of the U.S., parents of all kinds — who just want to make sure that their kids are getting treated fairly and equitably and that they have a really good, thriving education,” Rivas said.
Governors, congress members and even former President Donald Trump have all been outspoken about their disinterest in broadening the scope of education, or even maintaining what’s already in place.
In October 2022, Nikole Hannah Jones, renowned journalist and creator of The 1619 Project visited Lehigh. Jones’ work is the subject of dozens of attempts to outlaw the teaching like hers in varying capacities — namely, that the exploitative history of Black people in America is fundamental to the functional society that persists today.
Bans are the result of local and state efforts to thwart the education of young people. And even if they aren’t happening in our backyard yet, they are soon on their way.
Jones bookended her talk to Lehigh with one single white slide and the following words: “Healthy democracies don’t ban books.”