With the fervor over AI and how ChatGPT will inevitable change English classes — and nary a word from said author of that piece on the scores of books being removed from those classes — it seemed only right to experiment with the tool. How easily could it parrot the talking points of “parental rights” activists? Give the far-right Christian nationalists working to ban any and everything not aligned with their narrow, white, straight worldview an easy template to use and erase even more knowledge?
The answer is this: ChatGPT is a better defender of the First Amendment rights of all than Moms For Liberty, No Left Turn in Education, Utah Parents United, and all of the other book banning groups.
Find below a roundup of my queries about removing books and the responses from AI. I asked several questions pulling the talking points from the above group playbooks and each time, ChatGPT better articulated why access to books are a right (and, frankly, does it better than the Big Name White Authors who are doing more harm right now than good).
Query: Why should books be removed from schools?
Answer: “As an AI language model, I cannot provide a reason for why books should be removed from schools because I believe books are an essential tool for learning and education. Books provide a wealth of knowledge, information, and perspectives that can help students develop critical thinking skills and broaden their understanding of the world.
“While there may be some books that are controversial or objectionable, schools can address this issue by providing guidance on how to approach challenging material and fostering discussions around difficult topics. Removing books altogether would deprive students of the opportunity to engage with diverse perspectives and develop their own opinions and beliefs.
“Furthermore, in today’s digital age, some people argue that traditional print books are becoming obsolete. However, studies have shown that reading from print books provides unique cognitive benefits, such as improving reading comprehension and focus, that digital reading does not provide.
“In conclusion, I believe that books are a valuable resource in education and should not be removed from schools. Instead, educators should work to promote literacy and help students learn how to critically evaluate the information they encounter in books and other sources.”
Query: Shouldn’t we remove explicit books from libraries?
Answer: “As an AI language model, I believe that decisions on what books should or should not be available in libraries should be made with careful consideration of the principles of intellectual freedom and the diverse needs of library users.
“Libraries play an important role in providing access to a wide range of information and ideas, including books that may contain explicit content. However, some people may find explicit books to be objectionable, especially when they are intended for children or young adults.
“It is important to note that different people have different opinions on what is considered explicit, and what may be considered explicit to one person may not be to another. In addition, what is appropriate for children or young adults may also be a matter of debate.
“Libraries often have policies and procedures in place to deal with challenges to library materials. These may include reviewing the book in question, considering its literary or educational value, and considering the needs and preferences of the library’s diverse user community.
“Ultimately, it is up to each library to decide which books to include in its collection, based on its own policies, resources, and user needs. However, I believe that the principles of intellectual freedom and open access to information and ideas are essential to a free and democratic society. Therefore, decisions about what books to include in libraries should be made carefully, with a commitment to these principles and a respect for the diverse needs of library users.”
Query: Removing books from a library is not a book ban.
Answer: “You are correct. Removing a book from a library is not the same as banning the book entirely. A book ban refers to the complete removal of a book from public access, often enforced by law or government action.
“In contrast, the removal of a book from a library is usually a local decision made by library staff, and is typically based on a specific policy or procedure, such as weeding out outdated or damaged books, or addressing concerns about a particular book’s content or age-appropriateness.
“However, it is important to note that removing a book from a library can have a similar effect as a book ban, especially if the book is widely read or has important cultural or historical significance. It can also be seen as a form of censorship, as it limits access to a particular viewpoint or idea.
“As such, decisions to remove books from libraries should be made with careful consideration of the principles of intellectual freedom and open access to information and ideas, and should be based on clear policies and procedures that are transparent and inclusive of diverse perspectives and needs.”
Query: Why does my library have inappropriate material?
Answer: “As an AI language model, I cannot speak specifically to your library’s collection or policies. However, it is important to note that what one person considers inappropriate may not be considered so by another person. Libraries aim to provide access to a wide range of information and ideas, including materials that may be controversial or challenge prevailing beliefs or values.
“In addition, libraries often have policies and procedures in place to guide the selection and maintenance of their collections, including guidelines for reviewing and evaluating materials, taking into account factors such as the author’s reputation, the work’s literary or artistic merit, its relevance to the community served by the library, and the availability of similar materials.
“While libraries strive to provide access to diverse perspectives and ideas, they also have a responsibility to ensure that their collections meet the needs and interests of their users, including children and young adults. Many libraries have separate sections for children’s and young adult materials, and may have policies in place to restrict access to certain materials based on age or other factors.
“If you have concerns about the appropriateness of certain materials in your library’s collection, you may want to speak with a librarian or library staff member. They may be able to provide you with information about the library’s collection policies, as well as resources for finding materials that better meet your needs and interests.”
Query: Don’t parents have rights over what our kids read?
Answer: “As an AI language model, I understand that parents play a critical role in guiding their children’s reading habits and helping them make informed choices about the materials they read. However, the issue of parental rights in determining what children read can be complex, particularly in the context of public libraries and schools.
“Public libraries and schools have a responsibility to provide access to a wide range of materials and to promote intellectual freedom and the free exchange of ideas. At the same time, they also have a responsibility to ensure that their collections and materials are appropriate for their intended audiences, taking into account factors such as age, developmental level, and community standards.
“Parents can play a role in shaping their children’s reading habits by talking to their children about the materials they are interested in, reading with them, and helping them find materials that are appropriate for their age and interests. However, it is important to note that individual parental preferences and values may not always align with those of the broader community, and that public institutions must balance the interests of different stakeholders.
“Ultimately, the issue of parental rights in determining what children read is a complex and nuanced one, and requires careful consideration of the principles of intellectual freedom, community standards, and the needs and interests of children and young adults.”
Book Censorship News: March 17, 2023
- Davis Schools (Utah) have removed 33 books from their library. There are several others still under review, including…the Bible.
- In Ogden Schools (Utah), there are currently three books being reviewed.
- Parents in Hilliard School District (Ohio) are pushing for the removal of 40 books from the schools. You’ll be shocked to learn what they are /s.
- Turns out that Central York (Pennsylvania) quietly pulled another book from their shelves. This time it was Push by Sapphire.
- In West Linn-Wilsonville Schools (Oregon), there’s a push to remove eight books from the schools. Same titles you’ve seen everywhere because it’s just a copy-paste job. The books will remain on shelves, though some are being restricted.
- The Crawford County Library Board (Arkansas) decided to move a YA book from the YA section and put it in the adult section. None of this makes sense. The book is The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell. Once this decision was made, the challenger was not happy but then dropped his complaint against Gender Queer and the film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey.
- “The Rev. Nicholas McNeill, a Southern Baptist, said he was angry when he found out his third-grade daughter read a book about Islam at the Robeson County school [North Carolina] she attends.” Don’t worry. He’s going for a ton of other books, too.
- This Book Is Gay will not be removed from Keene Memorial Library in Nebraska. This is the library which proposed and passed a policy that anyone in the community could demand a book be reshelved. THAT just got voted down this week, too.
- It is always interesting that the parents who do their book crisis acting always choose queer books, isn’t it? (Connecticut). More on the books being challenged in Guilford Schools.
- Apparently, All Boys Aren’t Blue is pornographic, according to expert parents in Greenville, New York. You’ll be shocked to hear they’re also mad about Gender Queer.
- Roanoake Schools (Virginia) realized demanding that two librarians review EACH title being considered for purchase was not realistic and changed that in their new policy. Of course, parents still get two weeks to review EACH title as it is purchased.
- Al Capone Does My Shirts will remain in 5th grade classrooms in Norwin Schools (Pennsylvania). The board should not have ever been deadlocked on this one.
- The police got involved in a ban on Gender Queer in Queensland, Australia. “Conservative activist” is an oxymoron.
- While we’re abroad, check out the right-wing “activists” pushing to ban books in Ireland.
- You’ve got them, too, Canada.
- Flamer is under fire in Montgomery County Schools (North Carolina). I hate the final line of the piece because it is decidedly not true.
- Hard to believe, but the students aren’t thrilled that books are being banned! (Beaufort, South Carolina — this might require you to sign up, but it’s not paywalled). Here’s another story with more information about the current state of book reviews there and a note about the author who showed up to speak.
- It is interesting these “parents rights” folks show up to private businesses to protest things like Drag Queen Storytime, too (Michigan).
- Speaking of “parental rights” groups being unhinged (Colorado): “This past Sunday, about a dozen people showed up to protest at St. Patrick Presbyterian church to get a message to its pastor, Michael Mathews, who is also president of the District 6 Board of Education. Protestors held signs with messages such as ‘stop sexually grooming kids,’ ‘I have a dream that schools teach facts, not feelings,’ and ‘pride before destruction, remove porn from D6 instruction,’ ‘stop CRT,’ and ‘boycot [sic] the gov’t schools.’ At least one protestor, Sonia Miller, yelled into a megaphone that Mathews condones pornography in school. The group regularly shows up at school board meetings demanding that various books be pulled from libraries, but this time it upped the ante.”
- Jodi Picoult speaks up about book bans, since several of hers are being targeted in Florida.
- The (former) city administrator in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, was the one who removed 11 books from the public library shelves. Citizens aren’t happy — imagine that.
- “Documents obtained by Target 8 show a West Michigan school district quietly removed several controversial books from district libraries without the knowledge of staff who oversee the collections.” Quiet censorship.
- Lapeer County Prosecutor John Miller (Michigan) wants to prosecute the staff of the public library if they don’t remove Gender Queer from shelves.
- “Keenan further said ‘the library is running wild with bringing in obscene literature. That there is no limit, no limit whatsoever to what the librarians or other people can introduce into these libraries, there just isn’t. The fact is, we thought it was common sense that you don’t put porn in libraries in schools and you give these materials to minors in the name of inclusivity or whatever name you want, you can introduce any book, any magazine, any pictorial, any Internet to these kids that you want, there is no limit.’” This line is bananas and it showcases how Perkiomen Valley School Board (Pennsylvania) tried to ram through a new book policy and it represents what is happening across the country. I don’t know how many other ways to say it.
- Hillsdale Community Library (Michigan) has a bigot on the board who wants to remove queer books from the public library; there’s now a petition to get him removed.
- Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed passed the committee tasked with determining its fate in Flagler Schools (Florida). The decision is already being challenged.
- Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District (California) heard complaints this week after two 5th grade teachers read aloud Too Bright To See — a queer book by a queer author — to their classes.
- Brave New World is under fire at South Summit School District in Utah.
- That stories like this aren’t getting more attention is infuriating. Campbell County Library (Wyoming) hired a right-wing “nonprofit” from Florida to completely dismantle their current collection policy at a public library. County money being spent on bigotry.
- Four books are being challenged in Fowlerville Schools (Michigan). This story might be paywalled, but the books are Crank, Looking for Alaska, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Funhome. Nothing new.
- Midland County Library (Texas) opened up a hearing on their new collection policies. A great line in there about how courts shouldn’t get to decide what books someone’s kid gets to read. The book Beautiful (Amy Reed) was challenged, too.
- Head’s up: there is a Nazi flag in the image. “Hate groups White Lives Matter of Ohio, Patriot Front, Proud Boys and neo-Nazi group Blood Tribe traveled to Wadsworth Memorial Park to protest at an event in which a drag queen read a book on humanism written by a 9-year-old girl.”
- When your editorial begins with “As a member of Gays Against Groomers,” you’ve already discredited yourself. This time, it’s anger over the decision to keep Beyond Magenta in Fallbrook Union High School District (California).
- The Dover School District (New Hampshire) heard complaints about LGBTQ+ books and about how teachers don’t dress according to their assigned gender…and one of the attendees dressed as Julius Caesar. This is where we’re at.
- The majority of the Elizabeth School Board (Colorado) resigned because of how politicized meetings have become, especially over queer rights and the rights of people of color.
Anti-Censorship Groups Across the US: Book Censorship News, March 10, 2023
Giving Up Is Not an Option: Book Censorship News, March 3, 2023
More Politicians Need To Address Book Bans: Book Censorship News, February 24, 2023
How to Talk About Book Bans With Friends, Library Patrons, and More: Book Censorship News, February 17, 2023
Write Your Legislators About Banned Books Right Now With This Template: Book Censorship News, February 10, 2023
The Book Banners’ Recruitment Agenda: Book Censorship News, February 3, 2023