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Intellectual freedom in peril: American schools under threat from book bans

The recent surge in book bans across American schools is yet another example of the dangerous trends towards censorship and conformity. With Republican Florida Governor (and likely presidential hopeful) Ron DeSantis leading the charge, these efforts to limit access to diverse ideas and perspectives are a troubling sign of the right's desire to maintain their power over us. As we confront these challenges to intellectual freedom and democratic principles, we must stand together and fight for our right to read and think critically.

The recent wave of book bans in American schools is a scary reminder of how dangerous censorship and the pressure to agree with a certain ideology can be. The insidious forces that seek to restrict access to literature are, in essence, attempting to control the very thoughts and beliefs of the next generation (a good New Yorker article on this 10 March 2023). These kinds of actions pose a serious threat to the basic democratic principles of free speech and the free exchange of ideas. Principles of a healthy democracy. 

In a recent episode of the popular Sky Atlantic/HBO late-night program “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver delivered a scathing critique of Ron “Meatball Ron” DeSantis, the presidential hopeful and champion of censorship and conformity. Oliver’s fiery takedown exposed DeSantis as a thin skinned, petty tyrant, a bully, and a man with a disturbing disregard for the voices and experiences of others.

Oliver’s words were not just an attack on DeSantis but a call to action for all of us who value free expression and the open exchange of ideas. As DeSantis launches his relentless attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, woke culture, voting rights, and the press, it’s hard not to see the creeping fascism in his actions.

The blistering heat of the Florida sun must have gotten to Republican Governor DeSantis, who last year proposed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (W.O.K.E.) Act to combat corporate wokeness and “Critical Race Theory”. Is this legislation a parody? It sure sounds like one, but no, it’s a very real proposal from a prospective presidential candidate. The Act seeks to empower employees and students with the necessary resources to fight against discrimination, indoctrination, and Critical Race Theory.

The blistering heat of the Florida sun must have gotten to Republican Governor DeSantis, who last year proposed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (W.O.K.E.) Act to combat corporate wokeness and “Critical Race Theory”.

DeSantis proposed this Act as a response to schools and teachers who aim to modify the curriculum to offer a more diverse and progressive education. The Act’s purpose, it would seem is to instead, empower Christian fundamentalist groups to impose their own values on students, overriding the teachers’ and schools’ preferences. This would create a sterile and homogenous culture in which disagreement is punished and different points of view are shut down. This act follows his previous ban on Critical Race Theory and the New York Times’ 1619 project in Florida schools. This proposed legislation is a treacherous and narrow-minded crusade to mould the minds and convictions of generations to come, with the potential for dire consequences.

The Threat of Narrow-Mindedness and Censorship in American Education and Politics

Those who support this bill are blind to the potential harm it could inflict on our intellectual and emotional well-being. Are we really suggesting that censorship and conformity are the keys to our children’s emotional health? By limiting access to diverse viewpoints and alternative perspectives, we risk creating a generation of narrow-minded individuals with a limited understanding of the world around them.

Thankfully, the law was not on the side of DeSantis, as a federal judge in Florida issued a temporary injunction on a state law from late last year that limits what colleges and universities can teach students about racism and sexism, calling it “positively dystopian.” US district court judge Mark Walker said that the law violates the right to free speech in the first amendment and the right to due process in the 14th amendment on campuses. 

The so-called “preservation of true history” is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to rewrite our past and erase the struggles and contributions of groups of the oppressed. How can we move forward as a society if we refuse to confront the uncomfortable truths of our past? And as for preventing the infiltration of Marxism, it seems that those who support this legislation are the ones trying to impose their own unbending ideological agenda on others. While Marxism may not be a perfect ideology, it stands in stark contrast to the insidious and heartless forces that prioritise profits over people and the planet.

People like DeSantis have tried for far too long to silence different points of view and force their own narrow views on the public. The prospect of a narrow-minded right-wing Christian fundamentalist like DeSantis running for the most powerful job in the world is deeply troubling, particularly in light of his extreme views. We should all be wary of the dangerous implications of such a person holding the reins of power, lest we find ourselves hurtling towards an Orwellian dystopia where people like DeSantis tell us what to watch, read, and think.

As John Oliver says in the show, an advert that will make you never want to watch Top Gun ever again!

Empty bookshelves

The motives behind these bans couldn’t be clearer. The books that are most targeted often feature protagonists and themes that challenge the right and offer alternative perspectives on issues of race, gender, and sexuality. This kind of dissent is anathema to those who seek to preserve their own power and privilege at the expense of others. By limiting access to such literature, they hope to maintain their grip on authority and stifle the emergence of new voices and ideas.

Image from CNN website article: Politicians want to ban more books. Austin’s library system is celebrating them instead.

But this is not just an attack on books. It is an assault on the very idea of intellectual freedom. The forces of censorship seek to create a sterile and homogenised culture where dissent is quashed and alternative viewpoints are silenced. This is a recipe for stagnation and decline, as it deprives us of the diversity of thought and experience that is necessary for progress and growth.

We can’t stand by while our intellectual heritage and democratic values are attacked in this way. We must defend the right to read what we want and think for ourselves and to expose ourselves to the full range of human experience and knowledge. The importance of this matter cannot be overstated, and without sounding too dramatic, the fate of our society hangs in the balance. Our capacity to engage in frank and open discussions, to grapple with the issues that confront us, and to face them with bravery and unwavering principles will determine the direction of our future.

We can’t stand by while our intellectual heritage and democratic values are attacked in this way. We must defend the right to read what we want and think for ourselves and to expose ourselves to the full range of human experience and knowledge.

The battle for intellectual freedom is not a new one, but it is one that we must fight with renewed vigour and determination. Children deserve nothing less than the opportunity to explore the world of ideas and form their own opinions and beliefs.

As we sit complacently on this side of the Atlantic, believing that the radical ideas of DeSantis could never take root in the UK, we must not forget that the battle for our cultural identity is already being fought and won. The cancellation of Match of the Day may seem like a trivial matter, but it serves as a poignant reminder that this is where the encroachment on our liberal freedoms begins. The ideological shift is ongoing, and we should all be deeply troubled by the implications.

The cancellation of Match of the Day may seem like a trivial matter, but it serves as a poignant reminder that this is where the encroachment on our liberal freedoms begins. The ideological shift is ongoing, and we should all be deeply troubled by the implications.

Hey DeSantis leave those kids alone!

DeSantis and his proposed bills are a chilling reflection of the same mentality that fuels the song’s message. An attempt to stifle free expression and independent thought, to keep the people in line and under control, with fear as the ultimate tool of oppression. The paradoxical nature of DeSantis’ actions lies in his purported mission to protect the people from the very tactics that he himself is employing, effectively acting as a totalitarian state disguised as a defender of democracy.

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