Florida schools face backlash over removal of Jewish and Holocaust books

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando issued a joint statement on Tuesday, calling the removal of the books “a disturbing trend that threatens the quality of education in Florida and the values of our diverse society.”

The statement said that the books, which include novels by Jodi Picoult, Judy Blume, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Saul Bellow, as well as histories and memoirs of the Holocaust, “are not only important for Jewish students, but for all students who seek to learn from the past and understand the present.”

The groups urged the Florida Department of Education and the school districts to “immediately restore these books to the shelves and ensure that students have access to a wide range of perspectives and experiences in their education.”

Florida schools face backlash over removal of Jewish and Holocaust books
Florida schools face backlash over removal of Jewish and Holocaust books

Florida governor denies banning books, but critics say law encourages censorship

The removal of the books was prompted by a new law signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in June, which aims to prevent the teaching of “critical race theory” and other “ideologies that distort historical events” in public schools. The law also requires the state to review and approve all instructional materials used in schools, and gives parents the right to challenge any materials they deem inappropriate.

DeSantis has denied that the law bans any books, and said that it is meant to ensure that students are taught “the facts” and not “indoctrinated” with “woke” ideologies. He said that the law does not prohibit the teaching of the Holocaust, slavery, or civil rights, but rather prevents the teaching of “hate” and “division.”

However, critics of the law say that it is vague and broad, and that it encourages censorship and self-censorship by teachers and librarians who fear losing their jobs or facing lawsuits. They say that the law also undermines the academic freedom and professional judgment of educators, and that it deprives students of the opportunity to learn from diverse and challenging sources.

Some districts remove or cover entire classroom libraries to avoid scrutiny

The removal of the books with Jewish and Holocaust themes is not an isolated incident, but part of a larger pattern of book purges across Florida. According to a report by the Washington Post, at least 14 school districts have removed or covered up their entire classroom libraries to avoid scrutiny from the state or parents.

Some of the books that have been removed or hidden include classics such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” and “The Diary of Anne Frank,” as well as contemporary works such as “The Hate U Give,” “The Kite Runner,” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

Some of the books that have triggered parental complaints include picture books that depict diversity and inclusion, such as “The Family Book,” which shows different types of families, including one with two dads, and “Shabbat Shalom, Hey!,” which introduces the Jewish Sabbath to young readers.

Some teachers and librarians have protested the removal or covering of the books, saying that they are violating their students’ right to read and their own professional ethics. They have also expressed their frustration and sadness over losing valuable resources and tools for teaching and learning.

Experts warn of the dangers of censoring books and limiting education

Experts on education and censorship have warned of the negative consequences of removing books and limiting the curriculum in schools. They say that such actions not only violate the First Amendment and the intellectual freedom of students and teachers, but also harm the quality of education and the development of critical thinking and empathy.

Dr. James LaRue, the director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, said that censoring books is “a form of intellectual vandalism” that “destroys the richness and diversity of our culture.” He said that books with Jewish and Holocaust themes are especially important, as they teach students about “the dangers of bigotry, hatred, and intolerance, and the value of human dignity and diversity.”

Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University and a leading expert on antisemitism, said that removing books that deal with the Holocaust and Jewish history is “a form of Holocaust denial.” She said that such books are essential for educating students about “the most documented genocide in history” and “the lessons it offers for today’s world.”

Dr. Lipstadt also said that censoring books and limiting education is “a slippery slope” that can lead to more repression and violence. She said that history shows that “when you start banning books, you end up burning books, and then you end up burning people.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *