Today is the African American Policy Forum’s Freedom to Learn Day of Action. All over the country today people are writing, speaking, teaching, reading, and learning about why the freedom to learn widely, safely, and without governmental censorship is a fundamental human right. People are speaking up and acting out against the forces of fascism that want to take away this fundamental freedom and leave the citizenry of this country struggling in the dark.
Just recently I talked about banned books on the ALA’s Freedom to Read Day, and how important books are and the variety of viewpoints needed to have a healthy democracy. But the restrictions on learning are not just being put through school-board book bans and library board targeting of librarians. It is also happening legislatively, where governments are attempting to legislate what viewpoints can be taught in the classroom, from primary school all the way up to higher education. Bills like Florida’s Stop Woke Act and this season’s HB999 are attempts to legislate what we are allowed to learn not on academic grounds or scientific grounds, but on ideological grounds. This is how fascism is formed.
I also want to talk about the wave of anti-trans legislation, largely aimed at children and teens, that has swept this country. Because make no mistake, this is an assault on children’s right to Learn as much as any book banning or CRT banning. Nobody can learn effectively in a hostile environment. And these laws make society at large and particularly school, where these laws have been aimed most effectively, a hostile environment for trans students. It’s hard to learn your lessons when you’re being misgendered by the teacher constantly and you’re afraid to go to the bathroom because whichever bathroom you choose is full of danger. Here in Florida there have been laws preventing teaching any school age child from learning about sexuality and gender in school, laws to make providing gender affirming care to a minor constitute child abuse that would get the child removed from the home, laws to prevent businesses from having gender neutral restrooms, and many many more. All of Florida has become a hostile learning environment for trans children, or children with trans parents and siblings. This is a direct attack on trans children’s right to learn, to learn about themselves, to learn in safety, and to learn widely.
Florida has been banning books over the past school year with a ferocious rapidity. So far this 2022-2023 school year, 21 districts in Florida have removed over 500 distinct titles from classroom shelves or school libraries. Most of these titles are books discussing queer themes (such as Gender Queer), themes of race and racism (such as the Kite Runner) or both (such as All Boys Aren’t Blue). This is a direct assault on all Florida school children’s right to learn widely and freely. Removing books from schools that teach them valuable lessons about themselves, their place in society, and the viewpoints of others, is the work of fascists and dictators, not people of integrity.
In Florida, all these assaults on students’ rights and freedoms are being touted as to “preserve the rights of parents”. But the rights of parents have never been under assault, while children’s rights are constantly under assault. Too many parents view their children as property to be treated however the parent sees fit, with no consideration that children are also people who have basic rights in their own right. The US is one of the few major nations that has not ratified the UN Bill of Rights of the Child. This enumerates rights that children have as their own people, including the right to an education that:
“will promote his general culture and enable him, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his abilities, his individual judgement, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society.”Proclaimed by the General Assembly, resolution 1386 (XIV), A/RES/14/1386, 20 November 1959
The attempts to use “Parental Rights” as a way to take away the rights of children is a disgusting attempt at attacking the most vulnerable population we have, our children. They claim to be protecting children, while outright harming children who do not fit into their conception of a “proper” child, i.e. a white straight cis-gendered child of middle class. And this attack on children’s rights will not stop at education. Every right the fascists chip away from vulnerable populations like children and minorities is a right that can be removed from the wider population as well, until every one of us is under threat and control of a fascist state apparatus. We must stop these attacks on our children’s rights before they become attacks on our rights.
I want to leave you today with a video of me talking about the most banned book in the nation, Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer, and what it has meant to me.