In Rules for Radicals, far-left organizer Saul Alinsky’s classic work on labor activism, number 13 in his rules of power tactics reads, “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”
Alinsky’s words are in full view these days in the form of “book banning” charges, a current mantra of the American left. And, as we are in the middle of “Banned Books Week,” the onslaught is massive. Front and center in the movement is the American Library Association, whose 2023 Banned Books Week theme is “Let Freedom Read.” The ALA insists that our democracy is imperiled and “that the safety of our right to speak and think freely is directly in proportion to our right to read.”
Similarly, a new report from PEN America, a left-wing advocacy group, informs us that school book bans and restrictions in the U.S. rose 33% in the last school year, continuing what the organization deems a worrisome effort aimed at the “suppression of stories and ideas.”
The Biden Administration thinks we are in dire straits and has appointed a deputy assistant secretary for the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. This “book ban czar” is entrusted to “enforce federal civil rights laws and address threats to civil rights.”
A spokesman from the Education Department adds, “The Department of Education remains firm in its commitment to ensure all students are protected from all forms of discrimination.”
Not to be outdone, California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill into law barring school boards from banning books, instructional materials, or curricula labeled as inclusive or diverse. He proclaims, “Remarkable that we’re living in a country right now in this banning binge, this cultural purge that we’re experiencing all throughout America, and now increasingly here in the state of California, where we have school districts large and small banning books, banning free speech, criminalizing librarians and teachers.”
In reality, whatever righteousness Banned Books Week may have once held – it started in 1982 – it has been taken over by progressives who, in large part, are trying to legitimize the field once known as “obscenity.”
In fact, most of the so-called “banned books” are nothing more than an attempt by parents not to have their children exposed to kiddie porn. For example, they don’t want their children to read books like Gender Queer, in which the protagonist says, “I can’t wait to have your c**k in my mouth — I’m going to give you the bl*w j*b of your life. Then I want you inside me.” Or maybe they don’t think their kid should be subjected to Lawn Boy, which contains a passage about 10-year-old boys performing oral sex on each other. Or perhaps they don’t want their child to be read Crank, which details meth addiction and rape.
The book banners’ most recent faux allegation concerns itself with an updated edition of the legendary Anne Frank’s Diary. The newest version of the iconic book includes Frank’s descriptions of her sex life. The original version published in 1947 doesn’t include the teen’s descriptions of puberty, genitalia, and lesbian desires, which are in the amended book.
The shrill book ban half-truthers had a ball with this one. Typical was union boss Randi Weingarten, who tweeted, “Texas teacher fired for reading Diary of Anne Frank to class-THIS Speaks for itself!!!” A headline in Newsweek read, “Anne Frank Book Gets Texas Teacher Fired.”
In reality, the teacher was canned because he read an unapproved graphic novel rendition, which contained sexually explicit passages, to his eighth-grade class.
To be sure, a few school districts may have gone too far in limiting what children can read, but the overwhelming majority are simply trying to protect kids from being exposed to inappropriate material. If a child wandered into a park and came upon a sweaty guy in a trench coat who handed her some porn, the banning charge would be ludicrous. Mr. Chips does not get a pass on this issue.
The fact is, if you are demanding an end to book banning and other forms of censorship, conservatives are guiltless compared to the scolds on the left. For example, “Cancel Culture” is solely a left-wing thing. To fight this kind of censorship, Parents Defending Education has launched a speech code tracker for public school districts, highlighting the anonymous “snitch systems that stifle free speech” at the K-12 level. The group asserts that the tracker has found speech codes in 115 districts operating in 4,565 schools across the country, affecting just under 2.5 million students in 22 states and Washington, D.C.
Typical is the Acalanes Union High School District in California, which has an anonymous reporting system “for students to report incidents of harm — acts of racism, bias, sexism, microaggressions, etc.”
Additionally, Mark Tapson, Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, discloses that when schools opened a few weeks ago in Ontario, Canada, the Peel District School Board had done some serious censoring. It issued a statement explaining, “Books published prior to 2008 that are damaged, inaccurate, or do not have strong circulation data are removed.” But the board added that it is “working to ensure that the books available in our school libraries are culturally responsive, relevant, inclusive, and reflective of the diversity of our school communities and the broader society.”
If you are not of the leftist persuasion, you just might not be able to speak on our college campuses. And if you manage to get that gig, you very well may be shouted down. Most recently, conservative professor Robert George gave a campus talk about what he sees as a growing intolerance of certain viewpoints in higher education.
“At some colleges and universities, speaking invitations to dissenters from campus orthodoxies are not issued,” the Princeton University professor laments. “Those who are invited can be disinvited or pressured to withdraw” Or “they are interrupted” or “shouted down.”
And interrupted he was. Some students who disagree with George’s views on LGBTQ rights and abortion – and apparently have no sense of irony – disrupted the speech. The event at Washington College, a small liberal arts institution in Maryland, ended early.
Also, beyond the K-12 realm, Minding the Campus reports, “Since 2018, academic and public libraries have been banning books with increasing frequency because they fail to promote the progressive political agenda of ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ (DEI). In a survey of 220 college and university libraries that had conducted ‘DEI audits,’ published last year by information provider Gale Cengage and Library Journal, one-third of the respondents said that book bans were being used for materials that had been caught up in the DEI dragnet.”
Clearly, this is not the work of “right wing book banners.” So, with the two sides far apart, the question becomes, “Is censorship a partisan issue?”
The answer, according to a RealClearOpinion poll, is a resounding, “Yes!”
The survey found differences between age groups and by gender, but the “most glaring gap is between conservatives and liberals, i.e., between Republicans and Democrats. On the issue of free expression, at least, Republicans are not the authoritarian party. That distinction belongs to the Democrats.” Republican voters (74%) and independents (61%) believe speech should be legal “under any circumstances.” But Democrats are almost evenly divided. A bare majority of Democrats (53%) say speech should be legal under any circumstances, while 47% say it should be legal “only under certain circumstances.”
Additionally, 34% of Democratic voters say Americans have “too much freedom,” compared to 14.6% of Republicans. Republicans were most likely to say Americans have too little freedom (46%), while only 22% of Democrats feel that way.
Not surprisingly, when poll respondents were read this statement: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” only 31% of Democratic voters “strongly agreed” with the sentiment, compared to 51% of Republicans.
But whatever the facts are, the book ban clan will not be deterred from aggressively pushing its contrived allegations. Alinsky’s 50-year-old dictum, “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it,” is alive, well, and ubiquitous.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.