Efforts to ban books are on track to break a record for the second year in a row, according to an American Library Association report.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district in North Carolina has banned a children's picture book called “Red: A Crayon’s Story” for allegedly being inappropriate for children in kindergarten through fourth grade, raising the question of how old kids should be to appropriately be reading a picture book about crayons. The book was challenged using North Carolina’s recent “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which requires that parents be notified “prior to any changes in the name or pronoun used for a student in school records or by school personnel” and bans any instruction on gender identity, sexual activity, or sexuality in kindergarten through fourth grade.
The book was in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools not as part of the core curriculum but as part of an agreement between the school district and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to provide Title IX content, Title IX being the law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools. So much for that.
”Red: A Crayon’s Story” is about a crayon that is blue but has a red label. Everyone tells the crayon that it’s red, and tries to help it be better at redness, until a friend helps it see that being blue is what it’s good at. Yes, that can absolutely be read as a parable about trans identity—but that’s not the only way it can be read. As is the case with so many apparently simple children’s books, it can be about lots of things: being true to your inner self, as the publisher explains the message of the book, or finding out that what you’re best at is not what you’ve been told you should be good at, or, in an example taken from the author's life, being told that you’re lazy or stupid when really you’re dyslexic.
You could figure that the right-wing obsession with driving trans people out of public life and terrifying children into hiding themselves is so strong that the parents who complained about “Red” were unable to see past their fear and rage, and get to the book’s other possible messages. That’s doubtlessly part of it. But it’s not all.
There’s a broader right-wing assault on social-emotional learning, known as SEL, that seeks to strip public schools of any messages about handling their emotions or self-esteem, or having healthy relationships with peers. When Florida banned 28 math textbooks “because they incorporate prohibited topics or unsolicited strategies, including CRT,” examples of such material included discussions of how to disagree respectfully when taking different approaches to a math problem. (Republicans definitely don’t want kids being taught to disagree respectfully.)
"We don't want things like math to have, you know, some of these other concepts introduced,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters at an April 2022 press conference. “It's not been proven to be effective, and quite frankly, it takes our eye off the ball.” Looking at what’s happening to his presidential candidacy, it’s hard not to think DeSantis himself could have benefited from more social-emotional learning earlier in life.
DeSantis didn’t know what he was talking about there. "Let's say a student is working on a really difficult algebra problem and they get so frustrated because they can't remember what the next step is," Aaliyah Samuel, president and CEO of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, explained to NPR. "They have to be self-aware enough to say, 'You know what? I'm feeling frustrated. How do I handle this?'"
Republicans have gone after SEL, though, by connecting it to critical race theory—convenient for them since, while CRT is not taught in K-12 schools, SEL is. Christopher Rufo, one of the architects of the CRT panic, told The New York Times last year that social-emotional learning is unacceptable because it “serves as a delivery mechanism for radical pedagogies such as critical race theory and gender deconstructionism.” There’s a large body of research showing the educational benefits of SEL, but claim that it’s the disguise for CRT and right-wing brains short-circuit.
The book-banning craze is multifaceted: It aims to exclude and harm LGBTQ+ kids, Black kids, Latino kids, and anyone else who doesn’t fit the Republican mold this week. It aims to undermine public education. And yes, it aims to create a nation of assholes unable to collaborate with others or manage frustration.
We did it! And it's all thanks to Molech! We're devoting this week's episode of "The Downballot" to giving praise to the dark god himself after New Hampshire Democrat Hal Rafter won a critical special election over Republican Jim Guzofski, the loony toons pastor who once ranted that liberals make "blood sacrifices to their god Molech." Democrats are now just one seat away from erasing the GOP's majority in the state House and should feel good about their chances in the Granite State next year. Republicans, meanwhile, can only stew bitterly that they lack the grassroots fundraising energy provided by Daily Kos, which endorsed Rafter and raised the bulk of his campaign funds via small donations.