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Alex Moody

Do more than the book removal proponents have

By Alex Moody

Regarding Ivie Szalai’s “Voices” piece from December 21: I can empathize with parents of school-age kids these days. I’m in the middle of it, too, with a third grader in public school in Beaufort. We’ve dealt with isolation, virtual school, excessive screen time, and multiple attempts at finding normalcy after the pandemic. There’s a sense of a loss of control, and no clear way to regain stability.

During this time I’ve seen new and continued efforts to increase parental involvement, some good, and some misguided, as communities work toward improving public education overall.

While I appreciate Ms. Szalai’s desire to protect BCSD students from what she considers obscene, her reasoning and actions show me that she and her supporters should not be dictating decisions about school library materials for any children but their own. I certainly have no interest in supporting their efforts at mass book removals. I support the highly qualified BCSD school librarians and teachers who make informed decisions about the materials they select.

Ms. Szalai neglected to mention in her piece that BCSD parents can submit an opt-out form for any books they find objectionable, thereby keeping their children from accessing those books. I humbly suggest that Ms. Szalai and any other concerned parents avail themselves of this option rather than pushing for removing access for all BCSD students.

Beyond that omission, Ms. Szalai and her fellow book removal proponents continually undercut their own points by employing bad faith arguments. Whether it’s using out-of-context excerpts, citing anonymous book ratings as if they’re authoritative, making claims that books and/or librarians are “normalizing pedophilia” or “grooming” students, implying that books are “aberrant” or creating “deviants,” or threatening BCSD staff with legal action, this group is extremely dedicated in its attempts to shock people into supporting the mass removal of books without question or a second thought (or even without reading the actual books).

That type of effort to “protect children” comes off as insincere. There’s no real dialogue, no attempt to find common ground, only demands and threats and an endless list of outlandish claims. It seems to be more about gaining power, playing politics, or enforcing a moral code. If this is a reaction to the instability of the past few years, it’s extremely misguided.

As book review committee decisions continue to roll in, and books continue to return to the shelves, it’s all but certain that even more bad faith arguments will appear during the appeal process. The system is rigged! You picked the wrong people! Only we understand the law! It’s all part of the same bad faith game, with BCSD students and staff coming out on the losing end due to the temporary-but-extended removal of books and a significant expenditure of resources.

I’m not sure how this all ends but, like Ms. Szalai says in her closing, please do some research on the materials if you’re concerned about this issue. But maybe do a little more than the book removal proponents have: Read the books in their entirety, not just excerpts. Consider publications like Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal when looking for comprehensive reviews. Take ratings from web sites with content from anonymous sources, like booklooks.org, with a grain of salt. Engage with teachers and librarians in good faith.

In the end, if you still find a book objectionable, use the opt-out form. It can be as simple as that if you’re truly concerned about your children, and not more interested in controlling others.

Alex Moody is a writer, teacher and former charter school board member who resides in Beaufort.

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