Will he wear drag?
By Rob Roper
If you’re looking for something to do this summer, Vermont’s Lieutenant Governor, David Zuckerman, is embarking on what he’s calling a “Banned Books Are Books Worth Reading” tour, which appears to be his own weirdly conceived political version of a drag queen story hour. What costumes he’s decided to wear at these events is unknown to this author. Hopefully something tasteful.
If you saw the press release’s headline and hoped that our formerly pony-tailed LTG was going to be reading passages of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the original, politically incorrect text from such classics as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, you’re likely to be disappointed. The tour announcement states:
Around the country, we have seen the proliferation of book challenges and bans by school districts and local governments. These bans often target books that feature LGBTQ+ characters; talk about gender and sexuality; highlight racial disparities; or talk about difficult issues such as substance abuse and cases of police violence.
So, prepare to be “woked.”
Let’s first discuss the concept of “banning books” in schools. Do you know how many books have been published throughout history? Neither do I, but it’s a number somewhat larger than what a K-12 student can read over the course of a 180-day school year. Books really aren’t “banned” by schools, it’s a question of making priority decisions about which dozen or so out of the many millions (billions?) are going to be read and discussed as part of the curriculum. Both sides of these arguments are too often hyperbolic in their use of the word “banned.”
In my humble opinion, if a book wouldn’t make it past a parental control content blocker on an internet or streaming account, it probably doesn’t belong in a classroom or school library. That’s not banning, it’s making a decision about what’s appropriate for children of a certain age.
We can – and should – debate the merits and disadvantages of choosing which texts are taught, and at what ages they are or aren’t appropriate. Personally, I think that if discussion of a book involves conversations that would get a boss fired for creating a sexually hostile work environment if they engaged in such talk with an employee, it’s not appropriate for a teacher to be going down such a path with students.
Vermont’s legal guidelines for what constitutes sexual harassment include “verbal… conduct of a sexual nature… [that] has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” The guidelines also state, “Any person of any gender can experience unlawful sexual harassment, even someone who is not the target of harassing behavior.” Ergo, if any student – say a kid whose values are of a standard Judeo-Christian nature – is made to feel intimidated or finds the material hostile or offensive, it should not be considered appropriate for the classroom. Arguably, in such a case legal action against the school and the teacher would be warranted.
Zuckerman says, “These events will feature special guests who will join the Lt. Governor to discuss with the audience the importance of free speech, inclusion, democracy, and open dialogue…. Students, teachers, and curious minds should be able to access materials that spark critical thinking, cover difficult topics, and appeal to diverse interests without fear of government interference.”
Great! Who would disagree with that?
So, I’m sure Dave will be using these opportunities to denounce public schools’ and school boards’ (a.k.a. government’s) recent attempts to de-platform and silence (a.k.a. interfere with) parents’ and students’ recent attempts to hold public discussions about the dangers of things like “gender affirming care.” There are, after all, diverse interests involved with this difficult topic and, of course, all sides have the right to free speech and access to materials (such as lectures) that spark critical thinking. I’ll withhold judgment on the LTG without holding my breath.
If anyone feels like attending one of these no-doubt scintillating exhibitions, the upcoming schedule includes: Waterbury, Wednesday, July 12, 6:00 pm at Bridgeside Books, 29 Stowe St #1. Manchester, Wednesday, July 19, 5:00 pm, Northshire Bookstore, 4869 Main St. And Bellows Falls, Wednesday, August 2, 5:00 pm at Village Square Booksellers, 32 Square. Take video and send it to me. I’m sure it will be a hoot.
Rob Roper is a freelance writer with 20 years of experience in Vermont politics including three years service as chair of the Vermont Republican Party and nine years as President of the Ethan Allen Institute, Vermont’s free market think tank.