Censorship of schoolbooks by the Right

September 26, 2021 • 1:30 pm

I’ve been criticized for concentrating on “cancelling” by the Left and ignoring the same activities by the Right. If that’s true, it’s because I think the Left’s activities will help the Republicans in the next elections, while everybody in the liberal media concentrates on the Right. But it is true that we shouldn’t forget that the Right is guilty of some equally stupid attempts at censorship, several of them described in this article in The Daily Beast. Among the things that the Right-wing group “Moms for Liberty” are fighting to ban in schools are predictable ones: mentions of race, the struggle for civil rights, Native Americans, descriptions of segregation in schools, and so on.

But click on the screenshot below to read some new and unpredictable targets of Right-Wing opprobrium, including, for crying out loud, the reproduction of seahorses!

This article describes the battle in Tennessee’s Williamson County School District, in a state where there are already laws against teaching CRT (I object to any such laws).  Here’s some of the offensive stuff:

At the heart of that fight is a conservative group, led by a private-schoolparent, that has a sprawling list of complaints against common classroom books. Many of the books are about race, but other targets include dragons, sad little owls, and hurricanes.

. . .With school back in session, the Williamson County feud has been renewed, Reuters reported this week. And the scope of the proposed book ban is even broader and loonier than MFL’s June letter suggests.

Accompanying that letter is an 11-page spreadsheet with complaints about books on the district’s curriculum, ranging from popular books on civil rights heroes to books about poisonous animals (“text speaks of horned lizard squirting blood out of its eyes”), Johnny Appleseed (“story is sad and dark”), and Greek and Roman mythology (“illustration of the goddess Venus naked coming out of the ocean…story of Tantalus and how he cooks up, serves, and eats his son.”) A book about hurricanes is no good (“1st grade is too young to hear about possible devastating effects of hurricanes”) and a book about owls is designated as a downer. (“It’s a sad book, but turns out ok. Not a book I would want to read for fun,” an adult wrote of the owl book in the spreadsheet.)

You can find what I think are the 11 pages of spreadsheets here and here (enlarge a download), and you can see a pdf presentation of some of the offensive stuff here, along with some videos by The Offended.

But wait—there’s more! Foreign words don’t make the cut, and the parents also join those historians of science who say that the affair of Galileo does not show antiscientific behavior of the Catholic church!

Multiple books that contain Spanish or French Creole words receive warnings from the group for potentially “confusing” children. An article about crackdowns on civil rights demonstrators, meanwhile, is deemed inappropriate for “negative view of Firemen and police.” A fictional book about the Civil War (given to fifth graders) is deemed inappropriate, in part due to depictions of “out of marriage families between white men and black women” and descriptions of “white people as ‘bad’ or ‘evil.’”

At one juncture, the group implores the school district to include more charitable descriptions of the Catholic Church when teaching a book about astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was persecuted by said church for suggesting that Earth revolves around the sun.

“Where is the HERO of the church?” the group’s spreadsheet asks, “to contrast with their mistakes? There are so many opportunities to teach children the truth of our history as a nation. The Church has a huge and lasting influence on American culture. Both good and bad should be represented. The Christian church is responsible for the genesis of Hospitals, Orphanages, Social Work, Charity, to name a few.”

Finally, my favorite bit is the seahorse ban. As I’ve written before, both seahorses and pipefishes reverse the usual course of offspring care. In both groups, males have pouches to contain and incubate the fertilized eggs, and females compete for those eggs to get into those pouches. (This is because females can produce eggs faster than males can incubate broods.) Because here females compete for rare space in male pouches, sexual selection is reversed, and in seahorses and pipefish it is the females rather than the males that is the highly decorated sex (see here and here).

You can imagine the consternation this situation would cause for right-wingers: males get pregnant! Why, it’s almost like transexuality! And so they object:

MFL’s Williamson County chapter also takes issue with a picture book about seahorses, in part because it depicted “mating seahorses with pictures of postions [sic] and discussion of the male carrying the eggs.”

The Daily Beast reviewed the text in question via a children’s story time YouTube channel.

Readers looking for a Kama Sutra of seahorse sex will be disappointed. Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish In The Sea contains nothing more risqué than watercolor illustrations of two seahorses holding tails or touching bellies (never—heavens—at the same time).

The passage that “describes how they have sex” reads: “they twist their tails together and twirl gently around, changing color until they match. Sea horses are faithful to one mate and often pair up for life. Today Sea Horse’s mate is full of ripe eggs. The two of them dance until sunset and then she puts her eggs into his pouch. [JAC: OMG that is HOT!] Barbour sea horses mate every few weeks during the breeding season. Only the male sea horse has a pouch. Only the female sea horse can grow eggs.”

MFL recommends the book be reserved for older children, up to grade eight.

As your reward, here’s a video of a male seahorse giving birth to hundreds of miniatures (warning: sex-role reversal!):


h/t: GInger K.

18 thoughts on “Censorship of schoolbooks by the Right

  1. You are right to concentrate on the left. The right are nuts, crazy, out-of-their minds and beyond hope. they can only be corralled and neutralized. The left are well-meaning wanting to better society, but are just misguided. I am hoping that voices like you, Bill Maher and Glen Greenwald will help the left find their compass again and align their efforts rather than focusing on what is counter productive. Without that, you are right, the well-meaning left is playing into the wheelhouse of the right, and the right, wrongly, will win.

    1. Well, there is also this. The right will win the elections because by the time they get through with it, how many vote will not matter. As the right likes to say — it will all be rigged.

      Very fitting however, that this story comes out of Tennessee.

    2. Yes, I think that concentrating on the cancelling that the left does is something that might just get some kind of result. The right have always been and ever will be cancellers and there is really nothing that we can do about it.

      There is nothing wrong with putting in effort where there is at least an outside chance of a result, even though this is becoming harder even on the left.

  2. This was also commented on by the (generally Woke) contributor Arwa Mahdawi in The Guardian:

    As we all know, there is nothing rightwingers love more than free speech and nothing they detest more than “cancel culture”. People should be able to say whatever they like without fear of censorship, conservatives are constantly squealing. Except, of course, if those people happen to be saying things they don’t agree with. In which case: silence them immediately and ban their books!

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/25/sexy-seahorses-outr age-conservatives-trying-rewrite-history

    Hopefully, Mahdawi is sufficiently self-aware to appreciate that censorship of this sort isn’t only happening on the right…

    1. Mahdawi is The Worst. I wrote to the Guardian about her. A bad writer ,all she writes about is what’s going on in her panties, her loungeroom, and stories others have generated. (see above).

  3. Williamson County is a wealthy suburb of Nashville and, although red, not as insane as the more rural counties. This nonsense is unlikely to get much traction there. In the rural counties none of those controversial topics are likely taught anyway.

  4. Wow, the American Taliban hard at work. Authoritarians gonna authoritate.

    The spreadsheet by “Moms for Liberty” reminds me of the list of topics banned by the military regime appearing right before the closing credits in Costa-Gravas’s masterpiece Z:

  5. I am all for focussing on the heroes of the Church during the Galileo persecution, but that only makes the Church look worse. For example Ascanio Piccolomini who tried to make Galileo’s house imprisonment bearable and encouraged him to continue working apparently drew fierce criticism from the rest of the Church.

  6. If you think the screaming about seahorses is bad, wait until they find the books teaching about jacanas, a tropical marsh bird with promiscuous territorial females that defend harems of males. Worse, the harem males both build the nests and, unassisted, babysit the eggs and young of their footloose mate. Evolution of polyandry in the jacana is probably related to the extraordinary biological productivity of marshes that allows the female to produce many more eggs than she, even with the aid of a monogamous mate, would be able to incubate.


    1. And females will commit infanticide, killing the chicks of other females to free up males to accept their replacement eggs, the sex-role-reversed equivalent of what lions and langur monkey males do.

  7. “You can imagine the consternation this situation would cause for right-wingers: males get pregnant! Why, it’s almost like transexuality!”

    Considering how often clownfish come up from the exact other side, arguing that (at least some forms of) sex change is completely “natural”, I think there might be more to this story. In other words it might not have been the right wingers who originally argued that male sea horses are akin to transexuality in nature and the right wing objection could be about teaching this analogy, not sea horses themselves.

  8. Censorship from the right was a lot more prevalent in the past, especially for film and TV. In the 50s, you could not say the word “pregnant” on TV and married couples slept in separate beds. Also, some movies in the 20s with jungle themes or that hinted at homosexuality were banned or forced to remove scenes in order to play at theatres. Still, THESE DAYS most of the censorship, harassment, and group think is coming from the left. It’s been the trend that even those who are very conservative religiously will still support individual rights/bill of rights (exceptions include stuff NOT in the bill of rights including abortion, etc.) I think that the point made here is that when you censor any group of people, you are inevitably censoring EVERYONE.

  9. I think this is sort of a misdirection. There have always been a small number of crazy or overly religious folks who make absurd demands about books in schools.

    But right now there is a larger issue of more or less normal parents, who have real concerns about what is happening in schools, but conflating the two groups seems like a tactic used against the normies.

    It is fairly obvious that there are a great many primary school teachers and staff who adhere to an extreme woke viewpoint, and want to turn their students into little revolutionaries.
    They believe that parents especially rely on the outdated and wrongheaded view that parents are the primary authority in matters of their kid’s moral and academic upbringing.

    I see books as more or less sacred. They should not be banned or censored. But not all books are appropriate for all people, especially children. We don’t want to find copies of Sturges’ “Radiant Identities” in the kids picture book section of our local library, nor anywhere in a primary school library or classroom. I don’t personally care if my kids are exposed to nudity in a non pornographic context. But that should be my choice.

    Worse, The woke complaint that the rubes want to ban the teaching of slavery or other uncomfortable truths is another disingenuous argument. The parents don’t want those subjects taught as woke indoctrination and propaganda. Some of the stuff they teach sounds almost like a version of American history written by a committed North Korean political officer.

    Public education exists to produce certain types of people. I guess in Ye Olde days the point was to produce youngsters who were literate enough to follow basic instructions for their work at the mill.
    I want my kids to have a strong understanding of history, science and culture, and to have critical reasoning skills. It is great if public school can reinforce and add to those attributes, but I certainly don’t want them attempting to disrupt the foundations we have already given them.

    But my main point is that there is some very shady stuff being taught by some real sketchy characters. It is reasonable to oppose at least the worst of it, but a tactic used to dismiss parent’s concerns is to group those parents with worst of the crazies.

    One of the best comments I heard on the subject was that a student should not even be able to tell a teacher’s political affiliations.

  10. The Christian church is responsible for the genesis of Hospitals, Orphanages, Social Work, Charity, to name a few.

    That seems entirely fictional – see e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hospital#History and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphanage#Foundling_Hospitals for starters.

    “Worldwide, residential institutions like orphanages can often be detrimental to the psychological development of affected children. … The growth of sentimental philanthropy in the 18th century led to the establishment of the first charitable institutions that would cater to orphans. The Foundling Hospital was founded in 1741 by the philanthropic sea captain Thomas Coram in London, England, as a children’s home for the “education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children.”

  11. Moms for Liberty seems to have misunderstood the purpose of Banned Books Week. Ironic that their complaint pops up this week when libraries celebrate the right to read and call attention to the problems of censorship..

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