School book bans reek of Nazi Germany

Published 6:08 pm Tuesday, March 22, 2022

One of the most visible signs of intolerance run amok, whether in Germany in 1938 or America in 2022, is a clamor to ban books.

Those of us who grew up in the post-World War II era can recall newsreels featuring Adolph Hitler’s minions fueling bonfires with the books they had confiscated — books that, for the most part, didn’t preach the gospel of German superiority so important to Hitler’s plan to erase much of civilization as it existed up to that time.

Those images were what some of us mentally recalled a few months back when we read of the Spotsylvania County School Board’s decision to remove several books from its libraries’ shelves, because during debate over that decision a School Board member declared that “we should throw those books in a fire.”

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I’m not unhappy that Rabih Abuismail made that comment for the simple reason that book burning serves as the most graphic manifestation of the anger and closed-mindedness that must exist for book banning to become an epidemic.

The American Library Association regularly tracks efforts to ban books and, in its most recent posting, reports that books making the list each year continue to be wide ranging.

Let’s be clear. Book banning and making judgements as to age-appropriateness are quite different subjects. Educators charged with selecting reading material that is to be offered to students should always consider what age groups of students should have access to books. Educators need to determine whether a book will be offered, and for what age level. The maturity level of students must always be taken into account, whether it’s to determine the books they can check out of the library or the depth of discussion they encounter in the classroom.

Here in Isle of Wight County, those elements are fully considered. If a teacher wants to introduce a novel to be studied with their students, and the book is not one already being used, the book is vetted at the division level for age-appropriateness, reading level and relevance to curriculum standards.

Libraries are a bit different since the resources are not required but are supplemental. The same process is used, but at the school level. The librarians have access to the same information listed above and use those criteria for their decisions. They also consider items that are of high interest for their students, such as Harry Potter or other more recent series. The principal approves the requests from the librarians.

What’s happening across the country today, however, is an effort to politicize book content, and it’s succeeding. “Let parents decide” became a rallying cry and one of the key factors that handed Glenn Youngkin the governorship last fall. He successfully tapped the anger that was turning School Board meetings into verbal blood lettings and pitting locally elected School Boards against a minority of the parents they serve.

More recently, the governor has called on unhappy parents to rat out teachers and administrators they dislike with a “hotline” that somebody in state government — we aren’t told who — will monitor. An intent to intimidate teachers and administrators is certainly implicit in the gubernatorial order. Big Brother is now watching from the governor’s office.

Book banning is a crucial element in politicization. Simply put, the movement is an effort to make certain that students don’t have access to books or discussions that might expose them to ideas that appear frightening, not to them, but to the adults who seek to shelter them. These attempts to ban ideas, especially in books, are generally cloaked in concerns over profanity, sex or political viewpoints that critics find objectionable.

What they really find objectionable, however, is what often drives such movements — a fear of the unknown and of those who are different in some way, be it race, national origin, sexual preference or identity, or any number of other differences that become invitations to bigotry.

Parents have always had input into school studies and always will. Parent-Teacher Association branches have long been a means of airing parental concerns. We also now have elected school boards in many places in Virginia. That means individual School Board members must answer during every election cycle to the people in their district.

And parents are given discretion to decline having their students read material they find objectionable — if they believe they can. With mobile devices almost universal among young people, it’s hard to see how parents can fully close the door on reading material.

But parental influence stops with their own children. They should never have the right to tell an individual teacher what children can and cannot be exposed to in the classroom. That’s an invitation to chaos.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is