Books and Censorship–Reblog From Abigail Johnston’s No Half Measures Blog

Fellow blogger Abigail Johnston, who lives in Central Florida with her husband and two young boys, has written this fine essay that I found all the more powerful due to its quiet restraint. Abigail draws an arc from her own love of books and reading, to her education of her sons, to the facts-on-the-ground classroom damage created by Governor DeSantis’s actions, to the implications for our society.

I would love to see Abigail’s wise and thoughtful piece gain a wide audience in Florida and elsewhere. The fact that the Republican donor class and others are welcoming Governor DeSantis as an acceptable alternative to Donald Trump should energize us all. He is a cruel authoritarian bully who is using Florida as his laboratory, passing laws and directing state government to censor books, ideas, LGBTQ+ individuals, Black voters, immigrants, businesses that he disagrees with, and gun safety adherents.

We the People must stop him.

Here’s Abigail’s essay.


Books and Censorship

Abigail Johnston General February 13, 2023 5 Minutes

According to family lore, I read my first book around the age of three (3). Spoiler alert, it wasn’t really reading, I’d just memorized some of the books that my parents read regularly aloud. Since the books were written in iambic pentameter and had colorful pictures to go along with the text, it was easier to retain. But the point of that story is that I have loved to read for a very long time. Some of my most precious memories is of being read to — those are books that I’ll always remember. If you follow me on Goodreads, you’ll easily see that I read a variety of books from all kinds of different genres.

Reading has always given me a window into other worlds, a way to set aside whatever is going on in real life and experience something different. Even if some or a lot of what I’ve read is a bit improbable, the ability to suspend reality and just immerse myself in the mind of the author is a skill I’ve learned to employ and greatly enjoy. Those skills I’d learned reading made getting an English degree more enjoyable than work and certainly helped with all of the reading and analyzing necessary in law school and afterwards.

Every book that I’ve read had become a part of me and how I view the world.

Now that I have kiddos, watching them learn to read and begin to experience other perspectives has been amazing. Having the ability to discuss books and read books with them has been the very definition of fun. While neither of my kiddos love to read as much as I do, reading with them has meant that we can have conversations about topics that might be harder to bring up otherwise as well as learning how their minds work. I confess blowing their minds with new and innovative concepts through different books is much more fun than I’d anticipated.

One thing that is very different for my kiddos than when I was their age a few decades ago is the breadth of access. While I had to physically go to a library to obtain a book (and still really like reading physical books), my kids can access nearly everything online. We’ve done our best to guide our kiddos into safe spaces online and also to help them process the images or verbiage they encounter, learning from what our parents did or didn’t do that worked or didn’t work. Having so much information at their fingertips and being adept at finding information can be both a blessing and a curse.

In my view, as a parent, it is our responsibility to be a part of creating a safe space for our kiddos to encounter topics/concepts/ideas and figure them out. In my view, it is better for my kiddos to read authors that get them to think, to stretch their minds, and be available to help them process that information than to restrict information. In my view, even though we are all affected by our peers, knowing that there are trusted adults available, willing and able to participate with the written word is key. Sure, there are developmental limits and we’re still figuring some of that out.

House Bill 1467, signed by Governor DeSantis on March 25, 2022, and effective July 1, 2022, requires each classroom teacher in the Florida public school system to document publicly what books are physically located in their classrooms. In my interpretation, this effort is literally to ensure that people who want to object to book(s) or to ask for book(s) to be banned by the school system now have the ability to target those efforts towards particular schools/classrooms. And it’s already happening — I’ve seen some really disturbing pictures online of how many books have pulled from classrooms all over Florida already, many because of complaints filed by constituents who aren’t even parents.

Here’s how it works on the ground, at least here in Orange County (Central Florida) …

The beleaguered media center employees were tasked with working with the teachers to make the lists of all the books in each classroom and then take responsibility going forward to ensure that those lists are up to date. In addition to the many many things each media center employee is already handling, this new task is gigantic. Different schools handled this task differently and within our school system, the teachers reached out to parents for help. I personally spent hours in various classrooms working on scanning in bookcases of books to assist teachers in documenting their libraries so that this task didn’t encroach on teaching or their personal time.

Our teachers and other staff are quite simply overworked and underpaid; while I have no issue with parents being a part of the process, it is appalling how much help is needed so that these vital and necessary professionals can focus on actually teaching. Seriously, outside of librarians (or perhaps their children) who actually has a list of their physical books? My kiddos are in 2nd and 4th grade as I type this post in 2023. Seeing the difference in the number and size of books between 2nd and 4th grade makes me cringe to think of how many are in the classrooms of higher grades.

This latest effort to restrict the information presented to children in public school in Florida is pretty baffling to me. Just like how some people want to prevent critical race theory or diversity issues or gender information from being taught in public school, now the very books that teachers are working so hard to get students to read are under attack. And why? Does anyone really think that the information isn’t readily available online?

I absolutely believe that what and how information is provided in the classroom is important. And that some people have agendas. In all the years I’ve been in and out of the classroom, I’ve had a variety of different teachers. Many of them had agendas, some I realized at the time and some only in hindsight. Regardless, I learned something important from each and every one.

Here’s the bottom line for me — education is not just about memorizing facts. It’s not just about dates and labeling the parts of a dissected pig. Education is about learning to learn and learning to think. It doesn’t help any society to have drones or to create clones. What keeps any group of people vibrant and growing is to teach the next generation to think, to innovate, to take what they know and take it further.

If we take away those books that stretch the minds of students, that encourage them to look through the eyes of another and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, to try on a way of thinking to see if it resonates, we deprive them of something precious. I don’t always agree with what I read; but the act of reading, of pondering, of considering means something. It means everything if we are to grow as human beings.

The moment we as a society decide it is acceptable to restrict knowledge, we’ve lost. How much we lose as a whole, how much we suffer for it, that remains to be seen. For me, I’ve located a few lists of banned books and we’re systematically working our way through those lists, discussing and dissecting them as we go. And I’m loving every second of it.

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31 thoughts on “Books and Censorship–Reblog From Abigail Johnston’s No Half Measures Blog

  1. Thank you for sharing the blogpost. What deeply concerns me on this issue is the apparent lack of outrage at what us taking place in Florida and elsewhere re: books in classes/classrooms! Perhaps there is more opposition than I know about from educators, parents and students. I sure as hell hope so!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Anne, my high school buddy, note this. White America cannot explain why I have straight hair and not nappy hair. They cannot explain why I’m considered Black and my skin color is light brown. You see back in my family tree a slave was raped by the “maser”. The off spring of the rape were of all colors. We generally took the name of our slave owner’s family. This is just part of American history that goes untold because white folk are ashamed of it. CRT, though not taught in K-12, would expose some of the truths not told in our history books not just for African-Americans but for Europeans and Native American groups also. History is happening everyday and current history books and classes cannot hold it all. The future we get away from 1862, the likelihood we will never know!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dear Dennis, friend from our youth, how can I respond to your comment in a meaningful way? The attempts to erase Black history—which has not ever been incorporated into school curricula as it should be anywhere in the US (ditto Native American history, et al)—is simply horrific, but all of a piece with voter suppression and gerrymandering. I view this as the last gasp before we emerge as a more equitable, democratic, multiracial society. I have hope via GenZ. Sadly, I know it’s easier for me to believe this than it is for you. But as your extraordinary Senator Warnock would say, we have to keep pushing—not let up.

      Warm regards,

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “For there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Hamlet
    It was illegal to teach slaves to read and write. People who know things are suspects, lone women in the woods with deep knowledge of wood lore were often hunted as witches. We are told that in the beginning God himself forbade the fruit of knowledge from humanity.
    Batocchio gave me a prize for a banned book story. When at 10 the bookmobile denied me checking out Mein Kampf. I got on my bike,rode to the library and stole it. It sits on my shelf now.
    No will cause some to pause, and spur others to get on their bikes. I don’t think that telling modern children with the libraries in their hands that they can’t taste this knowledge is going to work out how they believe it will. I’ve only raised six but the quickest way to get them to do something was to tell them they couldn’t.
    I know I should review the punctuation rules but I’m lazy so bad product is out the door.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a given about censorship, Richard: It whets the appetites of the curious. When Maus, a graphic novel about the Holocaust, was banned in Tennessee last year, it soared to the top of best seller lists nationwide. Nevertheless, we know how dangerous this practice and the mindset behind it are.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. OK.
    Preamble on a satirical observation
    There was this UK TV ‘cop’ shows called ‘The Bill’ which was a London working class slang for ‘The Police’. One of the common phrases used by the police characters when arresting a disruptive or violent person was ‘You’re nicked mate!’ (‘nicked’ being slang for under arrest).
    When I read this I thought in political terms of De Santis ‘State intervention. Restricting liberty. That the sort of Government / State intervention the Right refer to as Socialism……
    ‘De Santis… For being displaying tendencies of socialist state control…..You’re politically nicked mate!’
    (And also on the grounds of Gross Hypocrisy in a Public Place)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Roger. I’d like to see DeSantis “nicked” for trafficking migrants seeking refuge across state lines: he’d gathered them up from Texas since there weren’t enough of them in Florida and sent these poor souls to Martha’s Vineyard Island. This man is a malevolent despot. Although I consider him dangerous because of his backing, I do believe he’ll be beaten down by both trump’s personal attacks and his own unpleasant character and lack of charisma.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. The lack of outrage one of your readers noted also concerns me. Bad enough, the entire idea, but how in the name of an informed public, do we allow it to happen? Noted today that Nikki Haley is in the race. Let’s see if she picks up this issue to knock down her purported challenger from Florida, he of the book monitoring (banning, eventually) fame. Politics always figures into this, right? Not just sheer ignorance? As to the quiet restraint of the writer, agree — elegantly done. Point noted, especially my own instinct is to holler into a megaphone.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi, Denise. Nikki Haley has shown herself to be so ineptly contradictory in her public comments that I wonder how long she’ll last as a candidate. I would be pleasantly surprised if she positions herself against censorship. She will be a target for tfg, to whom she loyally stated she would not run for President if he does.

      There will be a faith leaders rally in Tallahassee today to protest DeSantis’s opposition to the AP African American Studies course. I think educators and librarians plan to participate.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for sharing my post, my friend. I do think they is more opposition generally but mobilizing prior to actually understand and respond to these attacks on our liberty can be hard. The outrage just isn’t there the way I’d expect to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My pleasure, Abigail. Do you know about the faith leaders March to Tallahassee today to protest DeSantis’s banning the AP African American Studies course? Reaction is building. Please see link in my response to Denise.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The marchers numbered only in the hundreds, but I heard some of its leaders speak. They believe they are gaining a foothold for national opposition to the attack on the African American AP course as an example of erasing Black history both prior to today and going forward. They stressed the central role of education in progress for Black Americans—and efforts since slavery to prevent such progress.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I love her blog post, Annie! Thank you for sharing, and I’m glad to see someone fighting back. I think the lack of outrage is in part that it is in Florida … one state. People may think, “Well, it isn’t in my state … people in Florida must want this, for they elected him.” The fallacy, of course, being that he is almost certainly going to be one of the top two contenders for president in 2024, and what he’s doing in Florida is what he would very much like to do to the entire nation. I am outraged, but would be more so if I lived in Florida … actually, if I lived in Florida, I would be moving north within a matter of weeks! And the other part of the lack of outrage is just that there is so much these days to be outraged about that … our outrage is somewhat diluted. You can only maintain high emotions for so long. There’s been a lot of late, people are getting tired, and that is a very real danger. Just when we need them to fight, they are too exhausted to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jill. I’ve just added a link to my response to Denise about a faith leaders March in Tallahassee today to protest the ban on the AP African American history course. Educators and librarians will participate. Perhaps because that was so blatant, it will better focus people’s minds on the entire censorship issue as well as the particular perils involved in reducing, rather than expanding, our understanding of American history in toto.

      But I, too, worry about public fatigue. I think your observations about the personal toll of maintaining high emotions and the dangerous societal implications of people’s understandable self-protection are unfortunately right on target. That is, of course, the agenda of the right wing Chaos Caucus. They’re counting on exhaustion and confusion.

      So we have to find a way through all this.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know you’ve felt that overwhelming ‘exhaustion and confusion’, and so have I. There are nights that I just want to go to bed and hope not to wake. But, I do keep on keeping on, as do you. Why? Because we care. Because we are that very thing that Ron DeSantis fears the most … “Woke”.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I think frustration is my overarching sensibility, but sure, we keep on. Do you know that “woke” was coined by Lead Belly and is considered to have been co-opted from African Americans? I do think that DeSantis—in his contempt for so many—has been a boon for another “woke” term: intersectionality. He’s energizing united opposition among the groups he’s attacking. It’s starting slowly, but I believe it’s growing.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. No, and in fact … you’ve taught me something, for I had no idea who Lead Belly was until this evening when, on reading your comment, I Googled him! Thanks for sending me on that journey … I enjoyed learning about him, though was saddened by much of what I read.

        I hope you are right that opposition to DeSantis’ anti-wokeness is on the rise. I’ll be listening for the drumbeats. We cannot allow him to rise to the Oval Office!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m not a mind reader, but I’d very much like to know what book banners are thinking. Are they aiming to have as many people as possible think like they do? Are they convinced that “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” so they’re trying to restrict learning as much as possible? Do they feel that suppressing ideas and information is what the founding fathers wanted? Just asking.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m not a mind reader either, Gail, so all your queries seem to me to apply somewhere—possibly in the order you cited. Not sure many consider the founding fathers, but I suspect nostalgia for a less diverse America (that never existed) ranks high. I think fear and rage are the underlying similarities among book banners. Thanks for providing pieces of this formidable puzzle.


    2. Good questions Gail.
      Speaking outside from the gloomily fatalistic European perspective.
      What is happening here is nothing new in the record of various groups of people looking to control the public mindset. It is not even what some might call ‘A Conspiracy’.
      Recent History (ie past 500 years) is littered with examples of Influential Groups be they governments, religions, powerful lobbies, or grass roots movements looking to impose upon what the public should read.
      I would suggest History indicates your first option is the nearest answer.


      Liked by 2 people

  9. It was a good essay. I don’t get the whole book banning thing myself….it isn’t even a thing here thank god. I don’t think DeSantis will get anywhere even if he is the nominee – Florida isn’t the same as the rest of the USA.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s maddening the way the political party that supposedly wants the government out of our daily lives advocates for something as meddlesome and misguided as lists of banned books. Whatever happened to the idea of people acting in accordance with their own beliefs and advocating for themselves rather than looking toward the state to protect them from all things disagreeable?

    Were there times in my kids’ upbringing when their teachers introduced books that I judged to be undesirable? Absolutely. In each case, I talked to the teacher about the negative effect that a book had had on my kid. I left it to them to decide whether or not they wanted to continue to use it or not. Most made adjustments. Some did not. In all cases, I was satisfied that they were making what they believed to be the best decision for their classroom and I knew that my kids would be fine regardless.

    More and more I feel like school administrators and parents no longer wish to communicate when there is a potential for disagreement. Instead, both sides seek to put policies in place that are supposed to solve all issues so that no one ever has to make time for a difficult conversation.

    The idea that we can shield our kids from evil influences by creating and controlling the inventories of the books in every classroom is absurd. I’d like to know the percentage of parents that stand behind these initiatives while at the same time giving their kids unfettered access to the Internet, or subscription television services. If your kid is spending part of every day on TikTok, or bing-watching series on Netflix, you might find that replacing those minutes/hours with reading—even if it’s The Bluest Eye by the subversive Toni Morrison—does wonders for their overall mental health and wellbeing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate this thoughtful comment, Carol—and your closing paragraph seems right on target. As to the communication difficulties between parents and administers, I find it hard to assess because the environments vary so greatly. In Florida, though, I’ve heard of many instances in which teachers feel intimidated teaching almost anything because DeSantis has so politicized education per se that the teachers fear they’ll lose their jobs.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Across the board, I feel that teachers are little by little having all autonomy stripped away. It’s maddening. I live in a liberal town that gives a lot lip service to the importance of a quality education but even here, all of the teachers I know, lament their loss of control over what they must teach and loss of connection with students as they spend more and more time reporting to their higher-ups and competing with the fast-paced content delivery of social media.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That is distressing., Carol, It’s not surprising that we’re losing teachers. We definitely need to increase their pay and get them more assistance. I don’t know how we address the social media behemoth. Are the teachers in your area paid decently, Carol?


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