What A Great Idea!

As state legislatures around the country move to censor the teaching of accurate history, a number of people have evidently abandoned the usual opposition tactics–political argumentation and (if those measure pass) lawsuits, in favor of a new and better approach.

I recently came across one such effort by students in Pennsylvania. They formed a student “banned book” club.

Junior high school students in Kutztown created a teen-banned book club to discuss and celebrate challenging stories, discussing both classic novels and current hot topics.

The club’s first meeting, held at the Firefly Bookstore in Kutztown on January 12, was attended by a group of nine young people, primarily from grades 7 to 11 in the Kutztown area.

14-year-old Kutztown 8th grade Joslyn Diffenbaugh founded the club after reading about a public protest to ban books in national and regional schools based on the topics of race, gender identity and sexuality.

Evidently, several communities are seeing the formation of similar clubs; they are entirely voluntary after-school activities, and several meet in public–not school–libraries. They are prompted by a characteristic of teen-agers that is well-known to anyone who has ever parented one: nothing–absolutely nothing– is as alluring to a teenager as something that has been declared off-limits.

The same kid who wouldn’t read a particular book for class will absolutely consume it after being told not to do so.

I especially loved a different, albeit related response from Tennessee.

Following a school board’s ban of Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize–winning graphic novel Maus, Davidson College professor Scott Denham is offering a free online course for eighth- through 12th-grade students in McMinn County, Tenn., where the board voted 10-to-0 to remove the book from use in middle school classes.

“The McMinn Co., TN, School Board banned Spiegelman’s Maus I and Maus II, so I am offering this free on-line course for any McMinn County high school students interested in reading these books with me. Registration details for those students coming soon,” Denham tweeted Wednesday as news of the book’s removal began to circulate online.

The ban, according to minutes from a Jan. 10 school board meeting, stems from eight curse words and a depiction of a nude woman in the graphic novel, which tells the story of the Holocaust by depicting Jewish people as mice and the Germans as cats. The highly acclaimed book is an academic standard and the first graphic novel to earn the Pulitzer Prize.

In fact, that is such an excellent response that I would be willing to round up a couple of former colleagues and offer a similar course in “banned history” for kids deprived of that history should our legislature pass the currently pending “anti-CRT” bill.

The Indiana House has passed HB1134 and sent it to the Senate for consideration.

The bill, which would limit what teachers can say regarding race, history and politics in Indiana classrooms, is nearly identical to a piece of legislation that senators already abandoned after its author said it would require teachers to remain neutral on topics including Nazism, Marxism and fascism and promptly became the subject of national outrage.

The bill lists a series of “divisive concepts” that would be banned from Indiana’s public school classrooms, including those dealing with the superiority/inferiority of “sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation”  or any that might make an  individual student feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish responsibility, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation.”

Rather obviously, if a teacher is teaching about slavery or the civil rights movement, s/he is “dealing with”such subjects. (How a teacher is supposed to tell whether an individual student feels “discomfort” is anyone’s guess….)

The linked article noted the “considerable opposition” to the measure mounted by Indiana teachers. No kidding! I imagine teachers were already getting pretty tired of the legislature’s constant efforts to tell them how to do their jobs, and are understandably hostile to a bill that essentially tells them to revise history and be nice to the Nazis…

If this barely-veiled effort to bolster White Supremacy actually passes, I can think of a number of excellent, accurate history books that might form the core of an online, free, absolutely voluntary class–and might well appeal to teenagers who could be curious about what it is our legislative overlords don’t want them to know.

I don’t have hobbies, and retirement is pretty boring. I’d have plenty of time to replicate that Tennessee professor’s approach….


  1. Of course, it’s a great idea. Imagine: Teachers teaching facts and truth based on hard evidence. What a concept. Those who try to suppress teaching truth and facts use ANY and EVERY excuse to belay their fears and ignorance. They are intellectually lazy, trapped in concrete thinking due to their religious dogmas and are afraid to admit that THEY are the ones who are uncomfortable due to the above traits.

    This topic is yet another manifestation of cave-man thinking in a complex world. Progress is hard, and it’s made harder by ignoring the past, the truth and the concept of critical thinking. Why, for example, are the book suppressors so ashamed of nudity and cursing? We are born naked, and until we start eating too much fast-food and sugar-laced packaged food, our bodies are generally beautiful. The Holocaust was our most modern egregious disaster both morally and actually. Of course, the slaughter of enemies, en masse, described in the Bible (Jon Sorg will define those scriptures) by the hand of God aren’t taught in Sunday school either.

    So, there we are.

  2. I know some adults who “missed” some of these subjects who could use the extra education too. I applaud the efforts to at least give this avenue of learning and critical thinking for teens.

    A local book club has decided to start reading just banned books. Hopefully this will help inform and educate the adults in the community.

  3. You would think the ‘sensitivity experts’ in Indianapolis would be concerned with more important matters than what is taught to teenagers. With the number of racists dwindling in the world, I’m not sure the production of more Hoosier racists is a good long-term strategy.

    Speaking of Nazis, you should come over to Muncie to see how the lawyers run the Ball State school board meetings. Several years ago, one of the Ball State Faculty Senate leadership called the Ball State University Board of Trustees a “politburo” several years ago and was demoted. This school board is most definitely a board of communists.

    What I find fascinating is the school district is comprised of 40% POC and those people of color chosen to serve on the board are from the ‘black republican leadership pool.’

    There was a peculiar reference for those people during times of slavery but I can’t remember what it is…

  4. Know what’s never mentioned about his subject? Hint: it’s one of the things that is inseparable from dealing with moral issues in history and especially the history of societies:
    It’s called “Ethics”, and the out-of-school book clubs that deal with ethics, and the teachers who raise hell about limiting the student’s thoughts about ethical issues – and therefore retarding their development in working toward the “. . . general Welfare. . . ” that the Constitution mandates – are to be congratulated.

  5. Thanks for the chuckle Vernon.

    Professor, it’s a great idea! I think I’ll start reading those banned books myself!

  6. I suppose Indiana will need to prepare for the economic future by creating an advertising campaign to attract business and industry leaders with the background they are denying Indiana students.

  7. The IN legislature wastes a ridiculous amount of time attempting to force feed k-12 students with white supremacy and ‘their’ religion, while hiding the truth of our savage history. I imagine in the future they will create a law/regulation to ban local libraries from allowing those book clubs to meet in their buildings. No problem. Adults will step up and offer their homes to the book clubs.

    Once Sheila and her colleagues create their website I will look forward to sharing the info far and wide. Who knows – maybe students in other states will want to access the chosen books.

    Our ignorant white male supremacists will not win this battle.

  8. Dale – it never ceases to amaze me how our legislature keeps doing everything they can think of to push away businesses with high wages that could increase tax revenue and improve our state.

    Instead, they pander to their business donors that have all the money and power and have no intention of giving it up to businesses that protect our environment by utilizing or creating renewable energy. Nope. We have to stay in the dark ages.

    Our universities provide excellent degrees that most students cannot use within Indiana. It’s a wonderful deal we provide to companies located in states that, unlike Indiana, don’t believe in staying in the dark ages.

  9. You should create such a course regardless of whether or not the legislature passes this horrible bill. Several kids in Indiana do not attend schools that offer balanced and truthful history courses. While their parents may try to prevent them from signing up for such a class, maybe you can reach some of them. And what about adults who never learned accurate history back in the day? I know I certainly didn’t. This could be a way to improve civic literacy as well.

  10. And how ironic that, right now, Fahrenheit 451 is IRT’s February performance. Once again, literature minx’s life. Since I’m already teaching banned books, maybe I’ll send the legislators a ticket. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

  11. I would love to see your list of top five recommended history books that tell the story honestly. Could you post that sometime? Thank you.

  12. I’m certainly no Middle School or HS student (74), but I would sign up for your class.

  13. I attended a good, public high school and graduated in 1974. We had a couple of teachers who I thought were excellent as they provided challenging materials and then asked us students to think critically of what was presented and to defend our positions. I thought I knew a good bit about American history but in the past 10 years, I have (with the help of a close friend who is a History grad from UW-Milwaukee) discovered quite a few history books putting my original understanding to an even greater degree of rigorous inspection. I would be happy to share the titles of some of these if you would like, although I would be surprised if you haven’t them on your bookshelf already. And you’re right. Reverse psychology on teenagers is the most effective incentive ever devised!

  14. Lilly’s recent announcement to invest billions of dollars in a new plant in North Carolina because that state has a workforce that is capable of performing at high levels in fields that matter to Big Pharma is a blunt reminder to Indiana that our patron saint (Eli Lilly) is even losing patience with our failure to take education seriously. If the General Assembly would focus its attention on the things that matter in the area of education, we wouldn’t be losing out to other states in the areas of technology, science, medicine and business development. It’s always about developing minds, not trying to control them.

    PS. Plan your curriculum, Shiela, and fund it with some cloud sourcing. You’ll be amazed, I predict, at how much support you will generate for your idea. The internet allows you to bypass legislative belligerence.

  15. What a great idea indeed. And thank you for the idea to recommend banned books to our book clibs.

  16. Like many culture war strategies, the move to rewrite history will lead to zero changes in the study of history, nothing popularizes a book more than banning it, so that’s not the point of the ban. The point is to energize Republican voters. The legislation has to be carefully timed with the propaganda just like sales of products are carefully timed to let advertising get most influential.

    That’s why Fox News leads the Republican Party in timing.

  17. Ban the bible because it is about a swarthy Jew named Jesus who is an alleged close friend of George Soros.

  18. Freedom to choose and majority rules.

    The president could install this agenda right now with a simple stroke of the pen. But, one would have to grow a set and not worry about hurting anyone’s feelings.

    I guarantee if this doesn’t happen now, if the presidency changes in a couple of years, they will do it! Missed opportunities? I believe it would be brutally missed.

    The warnings were out in 2012, nobody listened. Everybody made assumptions that Hillary Clinton would fix everything after Barack obama. She would take the next step. Ooooops🥺

    Solomon said “time and circumstance befall all.”

    That basically meant that all men die no matter the level of their knowledge. Unfortunately, many die ignorant. Because, they choose to be ignorant.

    Paul told Timothy to reject ignorant debates. But how does one know that a viewpoint or a debate or an opinion is ignorant? Well, one way would be an evident attempt to force a belief on an individual. Another would be, an attempt to silence those of other opinions without actually understanding what those beliefs are!

    You can’t debate without knowledge. The the attempt to do so reveals ignorance.

    Experience combined with knowledge gives much more than a modicum of wisdom. Definitely it’s better to be thought foolish through someone’s opinion than to prove it by spewing false doctrine and alternate reality.

    Comprehension can lead to better listening and better understanding which of course can lead to a deeper knowledge and therefore a level of wisdom. But to most, that’s way too much work.

    Everyone is responsible to a certain extent for their own intellectual prowess, but, that also falls to the generation before and how they taught the new and impressionable generation.

    As Mike Wilson States in his book, by the same title, “Ignorance Breeds Fear And Hatred.” It’s interesting, read it!

    There are two sides to every coin, but how many sides are there to a marble? Perception can say one side and perception can say hundreds of sides. Perception is definitely not an absolute.

    You can see that in the comments on this thread? Whose perception is correct? Or how much of their perception is correct? Or how much of their perception is lacking.

    Therein lies the rub!

  19. Please don’t forget that it was the Indiana legislature that attempted some years ago to legislate the value of pi.

  20. Sheila: If you start it count me in. I’m not into rewriting history to suit present day political/racial prejudices; I’m from the school who write history in a factual context, whether such be good, bad or indifferent, as in what happened happened, and a Nazi lover I am not! Go for it, Sheila!

  21. My maternal grandfather survived a Nazi “work camp” in Denmark during the occupation during WW2.
    That explains the wearing of long sleeved shirts while visiting us in a California summer.

    We must study history to educate and prevent the atrocities of the past.

  22. My friend and political observer Susan Adler Thorp’s mother, Herta Adler, had her number tattooed on her arm. She had quite a story. Google Mrs. Adler to read and understand why we must care about what is happening all around us. Mrs. Adler has passed on, yet while she was here she spoke to groups everywhere about the danger that is building with each passing hour. Her daughter Susan carries the message forward in her memory. Are we listening? Think book-banning is harmless?

  23. Book banning is a terrible thing, and if books are against a person’s taste or beliefs, they don’t have to read them!

    In germany, people sat around and watched the decay of their government and society. They couldn’t see the forest because the trees were in the way. And after the horrific cruelty of the concentration camps were revealed, the German citizenry basically said; “well, we didn’t know.”

    My great uncle’s were there, and they went to the surrounding towns and them to go bury the bodies at one burnt. And they cried and they complained and they thought they were being mistreated and humiliated. There was no mercy being shown the locals. They made sure that they buried those bodies no matter how decayed they were. There was no way in holy heck that those people and towns around those camps didn’t know what was happening. My great uncle Roger said that they smelled the death 60 miles away.

    It took time, the Nazi party just didn’t crop up in 1935, it was around well before then, slowly, through the imprisonments of undesirables, the infirmed and mentally ill were killed En Masse, the descendants of African soldiers that were still in Germany were rounded up and slaughtered. The women were used as comfort women for the German military. Night of the long knives, Crystalnachct all of these things happened and they let them slide. The false flag operation that burnt down or burnt out the German Parliament building. They blamed it on the Communists and used that as the vehicle to murder all of them in germany. That’s what I mean by history being cyclical. It’s happening all over again, and everyone is doing the same thing to each other as happened back then. I can quote chapter and verse throughout history where the same thing has happened all the way back through the millennium. But the fact remains, the end result is going to be the same this time except it might be the last time. There might not be any more history afterwards. At least any hopeful or beneficial history. Probably more like history of the dark ages on steroids.

    This country glorified Slavery, this country glorified Manifest Destiny, this country promoted Eugenics, and the list goes on and on and on.

    Those ideas never went away, that mentality was not eliminated from society, what does everyone think was going to happen?

  24. Linda — loved the cartoon – copied and pasted it on my FB page.
    As soon as I heard that TN banned “Maus” (which I had never heard of) I immediately ordered a copy of the complete work for my 13 year old grandson. He loves graphic books and I’m going to ask him to find the nude mouse/woman.
    Caren – A liberal woman’s group I belong to is planning a book discussion on “The 1619 Project”.
    The best defense is a great offense!
    Betty — I triple-dog-dare you to do it take action in your community — there are things you can do to counter this goofy stuff. Don’t wait on Sheila. Go for it where you live. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

  25. Shelia, I think you proposal to teach “banned history” is a good one. Should you decide to do such a webpage, I volunteer to help teach this history program. Before becoming an attorney, I was a secondary ed teacher. Had license in PA to teach Social Studies, grades 7-12; licensed in OH to teach History and Government (Civics) grades 7-12. In addition to my BA and JD, I hold Masters degrees in Education and History too. Think this is enough to qualify?

  26. I participate in an online book club facilitated by an arts-related service organization of which I’m a member, and we only read writers of color. Because this arts-related service organization remains overwhelmingly white, our book club membership mirrors that. We’ve read history, fiction, memoirs and poetry. One of the great gifts of this book club has been the opportunity to share our collective “ignorance” of historical events, political movements, and diverse perspectives on culture because of the “white”-hot intensity of white supremacy culture throughout the U.S. and much of Europe.

    As we imagine these book clubs for grades 7-12, I’d advocate that these online book clubs for all ages could be a powerful tool in building connectivity and community to rally against ultra-conservative elements fighting progress and change.

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