The Book Burners Next Door

Photo credit: Washington Post

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

James Sherlock alerted us yesterday to a “bigger threat to our nation than Russia and China” by the left. While the Biden administration’s establishment of an effort to combat online disinformation is somewhat disquieting, its dimensions are somewhat vague. It could be no more than a federal government “fact checker.”

On the other hand, we need only to look to one of our neighbors for a concrete example of the Orwellian future some on the right would impose.

Earlier this week, the Tennessee House adopted a bill amendment that would have required all school librarians to submit annually a list of all their holdings to a state commission for review. The commission would have the responsibility to review each list to ensure that the materials “are appropriate for the age and maturity levels of the students who may access the materials, and that the materials are suitable for, and consistent with, the educational mission of the school.” No school library could include any book in its collection that the commission deemed “inappropriate.” During the floor debate on the bill, the sponsor of the amendment was asked what would be done with books that did not meet the approval of the commission. He responded, “I would burn them.”

Following a national uproar, a toned-down bill emerged from a House/Senate conference committee. The revised bill requires the commission to issue “guidance” to schools to use in reviewing their library collections to ensure that all materials are age and maturity appropriate and consistent with the school’s education mission. (The background for this bill was legislation sponsored by the governor and recently passed that requires school librarians to survey their collections for age appropriateness and education mission. This later bill would provide the librarians some guidance on how to do that.) In addition, the final bill would enable any parent or school employee to appeal to the commission a school’s decision to retain a book in its collection. If the commission agreed that the book was inappropriate, every school in the state would be required to remove copies from its collection. The bill does not say what should be done with the copies of the books removed from the libraries.