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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

The shelves tilt left: School libraries have no McWhorter, but lots of Kendi

For all the talk about school libraries under pressure to "ban books," the real issue is lack of balance, argues James Fishback in The Free Press. School library shelves tilt left, he writes.

He surveyed the library catalogs of 35 of the largest public school districts in eight red states and six blue states. It's easy to find books advocating "anti-racist" ideas and transgender ideology, much harder to find conservative or libertarian ideas.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, which argues that the “only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination,” is stocked in 42 percent of the U.S. school districts I surveyed. . . . only a single school district — Northside Independent School District (ISD) in San Antonio, Texas — offers students Woke Racism by John McWhorter, a book that challenges the borderline religious “anti-racist” ideas advanced by Kendi.

While 54 percent of districts offer The 1619 Project, in which Nikole Hannah-Jones centers U.S. history on slavery, none carry a critique of the project by economic historian Phillip W. Magness.

In 77 percent of districts, students can find Kacen Callender's Felix Ever After, which claims that girls who hate “being forced into dresses and being given dolls” are transgender, writes Fishback. "Not a single school out of the nearly 5,000 I searched offers books critical of trans theory," such as Trans by Helen Joyce or Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier. Both are bestsellers.

Some books are being pulled from school libraries over objections to their arguments, Fishback concedes. "PEN America estimated that 2,532 books were removed from schools in 32 states in the 2021–2022 school year," he writes. But 74 percent of "banned books" are available to students, the Heritage Foundation found.

When Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb poetry book was supposedly 'banned' by the Miami–Dade County school district, it was actually just moved from the elementary to the middle school section of the library," writes Fishback. "Gender Queer, a graphic memoir for teens about gender identity that The New York Times called 'the most banned book in the country,' was available in about 25 percent of the school library districts I surveyed."

Students should be able to check out controversial books, writes Fishback. But if libraries carry Marx's Communist Manifesto (75 percent), they also should offer Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom (8 percent).

Librarians want parents and school boards to trust their judgment about what belongs on the shelves and what's appropriate for children of various ages. But some are overtly political, writes Fishback. Emily Drabinski, president of the American Library Association and a self-proclaimed Marxist, said public education, including libraries, should be “a site of socialist organizing.”

(Did Escambia County, Florida librarians really think Merriam Webster's Dictionary for Students had to be removed from the shelves for review? I don't think so.)

In a follow-up, Fishback noted that Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father can be found in 75 percent of districts and Michelle Obama's Becoming in 65 percent, while only 37 percent carry George W. Bush's Decision Points.

Both Kamala Harris and Mike Pence have served as vice president: 57 percent carry her book, 6 percent carry his. (I wonder if either has ever been checked out.)

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