Florida’s War on Knowledge: Dictionaries and Anne Frank’s Diary Among Banned Books

In a striking move underlining the concerning trends of censorship, Florida’s Escambia County School District has removed over 2,800 books from library shelves. This sweeping action is an attempt to align with a law signed last year by Governor Ron DeSantis, ominously echoing a broader, disturbing pattern of limiting access to diverse perspectives and information in educational institutions.

The law in question, H.B. 1069, empowers residents to demand the removal of any library book that portrays sexual conduct as defined under Florida law. This criteria is being interpreted broadly, leading to the removal of a wide range of books, some as innocuous as dictionaries and encyclopedias. The Escambia County School Board, rather than addressing individual complaints, opted for a drastic blanket rule, requiring librarians to review all titles for potential violations. This approach has led to the closure of many school libraries at the start of the academic year as they await the outcome of this extensive review process.

The impact of these decisions in Florida is notable. According to PEN America, Florida leads the nation in book bans, with 1,972 instances documented across 37 districts in just one school year. This statistic is alarming, considering Florida has around 70 school districts, meaning over half have engaged in some form of book banning.

Legal pushback against these measures is mounting. PEN, Penguin Random House, authors, parents, and students have filed a lawsuit against Escambia County, arguing that the mass removal of books infringes upon rights to free speech and equal protection under the law. The state’s Attorney General, Ashley Moody, defends the school board’s actions with a controversial stance, arguing that school libraries exist to convey the government’s message, allowing for the removal of speech that the government disapproves of.

The list of banned books in Escambia County includes educational resources like Webster’s Dictionary & Thesaurus for Students and The American Heritage Children’s Dictionary. Also on the list are biographies of influential figures such as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Beyoncé, and Oprah Winfrey. Perhaps most shockingly, Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” is also banned. This diary, a poignant narrative from a young girl hiding from the Nazis during World War II, is a significant historical document and a testament to the human spirit in the face of tyranny.

The driving force behind many of these bans in Escambia County and neighboring areas is Vicki Baggett, a high school English teacher, who has challenged hundreds of books. Her influence reflects a concerning trend where individual opinions can significantly impact the educational resources available to students.

This situation in Florida is a stark reminder of the ongoing battle for freedom of speech and the right to access diverse sources of information. The actions of Escambia County School District, driven by the controversial H.B. 1069, highlight the tension between governmental control and educational freedom, raising critical questions about the future of open discourse and learning in American schools.