It’s the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, a tradition that started in 1982. This year, the theme is “Let Freedom Read!” in honor of record-breaking efforts to censor books now sweeping the nation’s libraries and schools. Yesterday, I published a story about Wyoming’s Cambell County Public Library, which, after a controversy over sex-ed books, last year became the first library system in the country to officially break ties with the venerable American Library Association, leaving its staff without opportunities to apply for grants, attend conferences, and fulfill their profession’s continuing education requirements.
Not to be outdone, Moms for Liberty, the crusading parents’ rights group whose annual conferences I’ve covered for the last two years, has declared this is “Teach Kids to Read Week.“ Here’s how the group’s founders explained it in a statement to the conservative website Post Millennial:
“When…those pushing for so-called ‘Banned Book Week’ continue to try to keep porn in schools we must fight back. America’s kids no longer know how to read and rather than highlighting that issue, these groups want to allow kids to access pornographic materials and other inappropriate materials. This is unacceptable, and we are proud to continue to fight for America’s children and encourage kids to learn how to read.”
Moms for Liberty’s attempt to connect literacy instruction to “pornographic materials” is part of a relatively new campaign to capitalize on the failure of a progressive movement in the teaching of reading. A spate of recent reporting has revealed that a popular approach called “balanced literacy,” which encouraged children to use context clues and guess when they couldn’t decode a word, didn’t actually help many kids learn to read. Moms for Liberty claims now that teachers are focused on in LGBTQ and anti-racist lessons instead of teaching kids how to decode words. I explained in a piece a few months back:
[Moms for Liberty] charges that schools have overstepped their bounds by teaching students progressive values—acceptance of all sexual and gender identities, for instance, or how to fight against racism—instead of focusing solely on academics. Now, these groups have taken up the failure of balanced-literacy instruction as further evidence of the utter failure of progressive education in perhaps the most important skill a child learns in school. In the process, they’ve launched the latest version of an age-old political fight over reading. Basically, the argument from parents’ rights groups can be boiled down to this: Don’t believe us that public schools have sacrificed education at the altar of progressive educational schemes? Just look at how miserably they’ve failed in teaching our kids to read.
“There is a lot of time being spent on ‘social-emotional learning’ and not so much time being spent on effective reading instruction in the classroom,” the Moms for Liberty account tweeted on May 21. “Why is literacy not being prioritized like sexual education is currently? Why does a 5yo need to learn about gender identity?”
What is the exact scenario in which an inclusive curriculum somehow replaces phonics-based reading instruction? Moms for Liberty has yet to explain exactly how this happens. Meanwhile, if you’d like to celebrate Banned Books Week by reading a few of the most censored, there’s a list here.