What’s going on?
Maya Angelou. Stan Berenstain. Judy Blume. John Green. Children’s and young adult books by these beloved authors are just a handful of the 1,648 titles banned from schools last year with claims ranging from pornography to making white kids uncomfortable. These are far from arbitrary or isolated incidents– the image of a concerned parent finding an inappropriate book in their child’s backpack and going to their school with it is a myth; instead, a majority of book challenges can be traced to just 11 individuals. With 41% of banned books explicitly featuring LGBTQ+ themes, 40% featuring main characters of color, and 21% talking about race or racism, you can’t deny a theme. While book bans are often promoted under the guise of protecting innocent kids from mature content, there’s nothing innocent or benevolent about restricting young people’s access to media representation and critical thinking about the systems of power that rule our world.
Who are the Moms for Liberty and what are they doing?
Started in 2020 with goals of in-person learning and abolishing mask mandates, Moms for Liberty (MFL) is most well-known as the evil genius behind upwards of 50% of book bans last year. MFL’s key talking point is “we don’t coparent with the government.” Yet in practice, “restoring parental rights” is near-synonymous with restricting children’s rights to ideas, identities, and cultures beyond those of their caregivers. They want to uphold white supremacy and pass it onto the next generation, so much so that they share funders with the Jan. 6 insurrection. But we know the next generation is powerful and deserves to be treated as the capable and compassionate changemakers for justice that they are.
It’s tempting to write off MFL as an alt-right fringe group—I wish we could. To the contrary, they have nearly 300 chapters nationwide, 27 in Pennsylvania alone; and that’s official MFL chapters, not even touching their alleged under-the-table work banning books under different names. Now, they’re coming after our city. MFL is hosting their second-annual national summit at the Philadelphia Downtown Marriott from June 29-July 2, headlined by Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump. We can’t deny their presence or influence, but we can actively reject and fight it and support our children in doing the same. MFL sees our city and state as vulnerable, swayable; we need to show them that we are no such thing. In Philadelphia, we stand for frank conversations, intellectual exploration, and, most importantly, children’s rights.
Why does it matter?
Educator extraordinaire Rudine Sims Bishop famously said that children need mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors in books: representations of themselves, exposure to lived experiences different from their own, and invitations into understanding worlds that are not theirs. Students from white “nuclear” families have had an abundance of mirrors and next-to-no windows; BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students and families, the opposite. MFL’s attempts to keep things this way tells our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students that their stories are not worthy of a place in education; by extension, neither are they. Furthermore, all students are deprived of essential opportunities to learn about others’ lives and identities. PCM is committed to working toward making schools safe, affirming, empowering spaces for all young learners because we know that how you’re treated and what you learn at a young age matters immensely—and we believe in what adults can learn from even the youngest of kids. Picture books, the very sort that MFL is attempting to ban, have the power to show children that they are not alone in their experiences, that they are part of a larger story and community. They can also empower children to examine the world and power systems around them. Children deserve to feel seen and validated and to see a range of bright, beautiful futures that could be theirs.
Book-banners claim that Critical Race Theory makes white kids feel bad, that it’s too early to talk about such “heavy” topics as race. Wrong. The notion that children are color-blind is blatantly false, the American Psychological Association finds. As early as 3 months, infants notice racial differences. Biases are formed as early as toddlerhood. As adults who care about kids and the world they’re inheriting, we have a responsibility to trust kids enough to talk about race, talk about gender, talk about history, and to listen to their ideas and identities, even when it’s hard. It’s our job—as parents, educators, advocates—to affirm all students and equip them to talk about identity and to fight systems of oppression.
Children have a right to see themselves reflected in schools and libraries; they have a right to be exposed to stories different from their own. A Common Sense Media report found that exposure to positive portrayals of one’s ethnic-racial group links to positive identity development and self-esteem in children of color. It’s essential that children see not only visual diversity but a diversity of portrayals, not just racialized tropes of struggle, but stories of success, resilience, and joy. PCM’s Radical Little Library uplifts stories like these, ensuring that local children (and adults!) have easy access to stories in which they can see themselves thriving, many of which are also challenged or banned books. Offering windows and mirrors not only affirms individual readers but also allows children to engage with multiple truths of the past and present, helping to disrupt the generational reproduction of white supremacy that permeates all facets of our country. We can fight MFL in part by showing up with radical joy and love, especially for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks.
What can we do about it?
The real threats to kids aren’t books that talk about gender and race but adults who restrict their humanity. If we care about our children, our collective responsibility and future, we must stop MFL. Here are a few ideas of how you can contribute and engage your kids in this work.
- Read banned books with children in your life — the very act of reading books that celebrate BIPOC and LGBTQ+ children and families is resistance in and of itself. Show MFL that even in the face of book bans, we won’t be stopped from reading and having critical conversations with our children.
- Protest during the summit — let MFL, local government, and the Marriott know that we will not allow a hate group to come to our city unopposed. Join us in showing up by the Marriott during the summit (June 29-July 2) to oppose MFL’s hateful rhetoric through protest and kid-friendly, joyful programming. Follow us on Instagram @phillychildrensmovement for updates…
- Donate to PCM’s Radical Little Library — located at 601 West Carpenter Lane, outside of the Charles W. Henry School, near the Mount Airy Weavers Way Co-op, PCM’s Radical Little Library is a mutual aid effort that allows families to give and borrow children’s and adult’s books featuring books predominantly by and about BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized authors. We can always use support and donations, especially of banned books!
- Email PCM if you want to join our resistance work!