NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A U.S. Supreme Court Justice once defined obscenity as “you know it when you see it.” However, across Tennessee, people are looking at the same books and seeing very different things.
According to PEN America, Tennessee is the state with the fourth-most restrictions or attempted restrictions on books in the country.
On Monday, Wilson County’s school board pulled two books from library shelves after parents and board members said the themes of prostitution and sexual orientation in the books were inappropriate for school-aged children.
Last month, some members of the Sumner County School Board wanted to remove another book because they took issue with its depiction of race.
“The book has a lot about BLM in it. It is all visual and if you know what BLM is and you’ve read about it, it causes division, hate and they want to destroy our lives and our children’s lives in our schools,” said one Sumner County meeting attendee. “I have two Black grandchildren. I do not want them to see me differently.”
At that same meeting, a student said she was speaking on behalf of other high schoolers who couldn’t attend.
“I am sick and tired of the censorship that has been occurring in our schools,” she said.
One Sumner County School Board member also wanted to debate the book “Lawn Boy” because he says it contains sexually explicit content.
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the Director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, said these efforts to remove books are a coordinated effort by groups and activists.
“They appear at board meetings with lists of books,” she said. “It used to be that a parent would see a student or child reading a book and look at it and raise a concern with a librarian or educator.”
Wilson County School Board Member Carrie Pfeiffer agreed with that assessment.
“There is absolutely an organized effort to take books off the shelf in the school district. We have seen citizens come to the school board meeting with lists of books that they are presenting and sharing with other people at the meeting,” Pfeiffer said.
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However, those opposing some of these books say they are protecting children by keeping sexually explicit and harmful content off school shelves and out of reach.
“I’m here to represent the parents and citizens of the state,” said Laurie Cardoza-Moore, Tennessee Textbook, and Instructional Materials Commission Member. ” I just had a conversation with another parent last night on the book ‘The Hatchet’. The content is not only mature or inappropriate but it’s vulgar. And does this bring out the best for our students, for our children? Is this what we want to subject our children to?” she asked at the last commission meeting.
According to the American Library Association, 2022 has already broken 2021’s record for books facing restrictions.
Pfeiffer says making decisions on which books to take off or keep on shelves is difficult.
“That is always going to be a subjective task. You can’t apply a single set of rules that every single human being is going to find acceptable,” she said.
But if the current trends are indicative of future ones, she has many more difficult votes ahead.