Haymarket Books Fights Back Against Republican Attacks on Educational Freedom

Portside Date:
Author: Ramenda Cyrus
Date of source:
The American Prospect

Haymarket Books, a prominent left-wing publishing company, has waded into the battle for education at-large. In the wake of a coordinated right-wing attack on public education led by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the nonprofit is offering some Black history books for free to everyone and sending free print copies to requests made out of Florida. 

Haymarket’s commitment comes at a time of large-scale upheaval in the education system. DeSantis is just the start: the whole Republican Party has launched a campaign to drastically censor what can be taught in schools, often targeting Black and queer content. At the same time, conservative parents have become more involved than ever in the education system through school boards and groups such as Moms For Liberty. 

The plot to censor left-wing ideas in school comes on the heels of a moral panic around critical race theory that culminated in more than 15 states imposing restrictions on its use in the classroom as of 2023, according to an analysis by EducationWeek

The attacks on education are coming at the school boards level as well. According to Pen America, from 2021 to 2022, more than 130 school districts across 32 states have instituted some sort of book ban. Of these bans, the report notes that more than 40 percent dealt with LGTBQ themes or had a person of color as a protagonist or secondary character.

The latest escalation is Rep. Cory Mills (R-FL) introducing a bill that would federally censor LGBT content being taught in schools. GOP Reps. George Santos (R-NY) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) cosponsored the bill, which could be used to restrict queer content in schools, under the guise of preventing the “sexualization” of children, which is often just a code anything involving for the LGBTQ community.  

At the state level, the most notable example is Florida’s Stop WOKE Act, which was passed last year, and prohibits, among other things, content that teaches that a person’s “status as privileged or oppressed” is dependent on their race or sex. The act is just one part of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ multi-pronged attack on “woke indoctrination” in education. His censorship law is so sweeping and punitive that many teachers have packed up their entire classroom libraries out of fear they’d be thrown in prison.

As Vox reported, DeSantis has largely focused on K-12 schools, but has also set his sights on higher education. College Board’s original Advanced Placement (AP) African-American Studies course was rejected in Florida under the Stop WOKE Act, which led to its revision to exclude certain themes related to Black history, and figures such as Audre Lorde and bell hooks. Haymarket Books’ move is a direct response to this growing agitation over progressive ideas being taught. 

While there is no exact definition of what “woke” means, for conservatives it is obviously a thinly veiled villainization of non-white people or the queer community. Perhaps most tellingly is their obsessive focus on the idea of intersectionality, which advocates for solidarity and understanding across the groups that have suffered under various forms of oppression—racism, homophobia or transphobia, poverty, and so on.

The reason for DeSantis’s objection is a very old one—the fear from an oppressor that the downtrodden will unite against him.

Its inclusion in the AP course drew DeSantis’s ire: “Now who would say that an important part of Black History is queer theory? That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids, and so when you look to see they have stuff about intersectionality, abolishing prisons, that’s a political agenda. And so, that’s the wrong side of the line for Florida standards,” he said in defense of the rejection of the course. 

DeSantis’s objection rejects the idea that two different kinds of oppression could ever be intertwined, which is obviously nonsense. They can’t help be, and would be considered so by anyone taking the field seriously. But the reason for his objection is a very old one—the fear from an oppressor that the downtrodden will unite against him.

Still, in response, the College Board dropped Kimberlé Crenshaw, who originally developed the concept. 

“We know that books can be dangerous to those in power, especially when they are in the hands of folks who are organizing to fight for liberation. That’s why we publish them. That's why they’re trying to ban them,” Haymarket Books wrote in the blog post announcing the free e-books. 

The company is also offering free hard copies to people and groups based out of Florida. Dana Blanchard, program coordinator for Haymarket, told the Prospect that the interested groups have ranged from educators to community organizers. 

Haymarket’s move serves as a reminder of the ways the left-wing movement can be forward-thinking and claim the mantle of protecting liberties from conservative attacks on freedom. All too often, progressives are simply reacting to marginalized groups having their rights stripped systematically, instead of taking concrete steps to fight back. 

“We know that books in and of themselves don't change the world,” Blanchard said. “But people reading together, learning together, organizing together; people coming together to know these ideas, and to think about how our side wins is actually dangerous.”

Ramenda Cyrus is the John Lewis Writing Fellow at The American Prospect.

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Source URL: https://portside.org/2023-03-05/haymarket-books-fights-back-against-republican-attacks-educational-freedom