Opinion: First, it was critical race theory. Now, it’s books

A national movement targeting materials considered obscene is gaining traction in Georgia. It has won support in the Georgia General Assembly. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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A national movement targeting materials considered obscene is gaining traction in Georgia. It has won support in the Georgia General Assembly. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Organized effort leads to districts removing books from shelves

Georgia lawmakers plan to consider legislation that would make it easier for parents to voice complaints about books and quickly see those titles removed from school libraries.

Even without new legislation, it seems to be already happening.

In response to a recent challenge, Forsyth County Schools pulled eight titles this week from its school libraries due to sexually explicit content. Four other books were limited to high school libraries, including “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.

Among the removed books is Toni Morrison’s first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” which is on the list of the American Library Association’s most challenged books because of its sexually explicit material, graphic descriptions and language.

The Forsyth list also includes “Juliet Takes a Breath,” about a Puerto Rican American lesbian college student from the Bronx who comes out to her family and moves to Oregon, for an internship with a feminist author.

Forsyth spokesperson Jennifer Caracciolo said the eight titles removed represent a tiny fraction of the 550,000 books in the district’s school libraries. The district’s decision to remove them was solely based on sexually explicit content, not on whether the books explored lesbian, bisexual, trans or gay themes, as some students maintain, she said. The district media specialist, the director of instructional technology and the chief technology officer conducted the review, she said.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” said Caracciolo, including that Forsyth Schools, under pressure, was reversing plans for electives in women’s and African American history. “That is still in the works,” she said.

The book censorship drive is an outgrowth of the protests by community members in Forsyth and other areas opposed to critical race theory and what they consider a general tilt toward liberalism in their schools, including diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

As with CRT, newly formed Facebook groups serve as ground zero for these burgeoning book banning campaigns. Georgia now has a Facebook group that urges parents to ferret out questionable books in their school libraries and share their concerns on social media.

One group called for people to “Please send her a photo of an objectionable children’s book including a photo of at least one harmful passage.”

Most of the books that posters are reporting as offensive contain gay themes or characters. For example, a woman reported that she found “The Magic Misfits” at Chattahoochee Elementary School. Her reason for deeming the book objectionable was ‘’Talks about gay fathers.” The book — which features a girl adopted by two dads — was written by “How I Met Your Mother” actor Neil Patrick Harris, who is a gay father.

As with many Georgia school districts, Forsyth has a process in place for parents’ concerns about content. “Parents need to contact their teacher or their principals, especially about materials in the media center. Instead of posting to a Facebook page run by someone who does not reside in Forsyth County, contact your child’s teacher. It ought to be a direct two-way conversation with someone you know and trust,” said Caracciolo.

Katherine Gates, a 2021 graduate of South Forsyth High School and now a first-year student at the University of Georgia, is among the current and recent students rallying against what they see as a blatant attack on books with LGBTQ themes. Students are planning to attend board meetings and hold a day of protest next month where they wear purple to protest partisan politics in schools and the use of students as political ploys, said Gates.

“All the books being banned from the Forsyth high school libraries are rated for ages 14 to 15, so clearly the material is not inappropriate for high school,” Gates said. Most of the eight books are by female authors, while half are by people of color. Several have queer characters or authors.

Gates was among the students last spring who defended diversity, equity and inclusion in Forsyth Schools against community complaints that equated DEI with critical race theory. She was also among the students who met with board members in August to encourage an advisory board of teachers, board members and students to talk about issues around diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We proposed a working group that included teachers who embodied those ideals in their classroom since their voices are so often left out,” said Gates. But the school board never followed up, she said. “They want to look like they are listening, but I don’t think they care about what we have to say if we don’t agree with them.”

Gates fears the board’s acquiescence to those opposing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and seeking to ban books will hurt the quality of education in Forsyth. “That we are such a high-performing district isn’t due to the Board of Education. It’s due to our teachers, and, if the board continues the way they are going, Forsyth is going to lose all the good ones.”