The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
Two school board members in Virginia last week called for the burning — yes, burning — of books in the school’s library that they deem sexually offensive. This is, of course, the logical direction of the conservative movement to crack down on any school curriculum that doesn’t reflect a right-wing view of the world. And it’s another reason why liberals and progressives should reclaim the mantle of free speech that was once an integral part of liberal thinking but that has now, alarmingly, fallen out of fashion on college campuses and other liberal strongholds.
While the Spotsylvania County School Board on Nov. 8 was discussing removal from the school library of materials that some parents had objected to as sexually explicit, board member Rabih Abuismail declared that wasn’t enough: “I think we should throw those books in a fire.” Fellow board member Kirk Twigg specified that he wanted to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.” It was unclear whether either of them knew or cared that they were calling for action associated with 1930s German Nazism and other oppressive regimes.
Some of the books in question at the school are in fact sexually explicit, like “33 Snowflake” a critically acclaimed but controversial book about teenage runaways. It’s reasonable to debate whether a given book is age-appropriate for students. But that’s a far cry from lighting them up like a bunch of modern-day Brownshirts.
As tempting as it is to dismiss the Virginia episode as clownish self-parody by a couple of extremists, it’s different only by degrees from what’s happening across the conservative movement regarding schools. It’s not just sexual material but societal issues that some are trying to purge from the classroom. Note the hysteria over critical race theory, a topic the zealots condemn without understanding.
The danger when people start talking about suppressing even genuinely offensive materials is that it never stops there (as the Nazi book-burners ultimately demonstrated in Germany). Twigg, one of the two board members who called for book-burning, also wants to expand the criteria for determining what makes books offensive beyond sexual issues, according to the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star: “‘There are some bad, evil-related material that we have to be careful of and look at,’ [Twigg] said, without elaborating.” Anyone who doesn’t find that sentence chilling needs to go back to history class.
The message that even the suggestion of book-burning sends to students is far worse than anything they’ll find in those pages. Those on the left who have strayed from the path of respect for free expression of ideas with which they disagree should take a hard look at where that kind of thinking is taking the right — and ask themselves if they really want any part of it.