On April 7, 2022, the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held an almost three-hour meeting entitled “Free Speech Under Attack: Book Bans and Academic Censorship.” It was very informative —mostly when Republicans weren’t confused about where they were. Before diving into their predictable but still astonishing behavior, I did an overall recap and highlights of the meeting here.
This congressional hearing brought guests such as students, teachers, parents, author and activist Ruby Bridges, and a librarian to talk about book challenges and censorship affecting teachers and students nationwide. While the discussion was mainly about K-12, the only minority (Republican) witness came to talk about conservative censorship on college campuses? A witness, might I add, that the inviting party didn’t even bother learning how to pronounce his name until closing remarks.
As in the past, this should’ve been two separate hearings. It would’ve helped them if they brought in a conservative to talk about K-12 book challenges either from the same angle (parent, teacher, or librarian) or one of the many national organizing groups pushing for these bans, but instead, the conversation was awkwardly split. It was so apparent that their witness, Professor Johnathan W. Pidluzny, felt the need to self-insert his opinions about grade school libraries despite teaching college-level civics. Citing other peoples’ reasons, he advocated for Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison and the graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe to be banned.
Needing to be everywhere and nowhere simultaneously, I think Jim Jordan’s time in the hearing was just to hear himself talk, because he didn’t stick around. We know this because comments/questions about his absence came up before and after his five minutes. Jordan focused on asking Pidluzny about college campuses but then went on this rant about the concept of “disinformation.”
Tantalized and needing to bring up the “marketplace of ideas” argument, Pidluzny incorrectly brought up that the scientific efficacy of masks wasn’t up for debate. While those with public health and immunologist expertise met and shared evidence to find the best way to approach the pandemic, Jordan (with a doctoral background in government and politics) and I (whose experience is in graphic art and humanities) didn’t get a say. To be among professionals, you do the work, submit the research, and get peer-reviewed. That last step is the closest thing to a debate, and the scientists claiming the pandemic wasn’t real, that bad, or that masks didn’t work — well, they had no evidence to support their claim.
Then, Pidluzny and Jordan, in a massive leap of logic, criticized the masking requirements as promoting disinformation? The science on mask efficacy has only strengthened over time, meaning no more cloth masks, and we need to use N95s whenever possible. Science isn’t stagnant: more research indicated a shift in policy, and their distortion of this is a two-year-old talking point. They end by saying if they said “no masks unless you feel like it,” like the CDC (which happened for the economy and the expense of those immunocompromised), they’d be “censored” for “disinformation.” The logical fallacies ran amok and were not on topic.
Hunter Biden’s Laptop???
As minority leader for this hearing and based on her opening statements, I foolishly thought Rep. Nancy Mace (R-South Carolina) might be relatively tame and stick to the topic. During Representative Mace’s questioning time, she was “regular” rude by insisting that witnesses (specifically librarian Hull and Teacher Berg) needed to answer questions as “yes” or “no” (even as they tried to explain they couldn’t). Mace was a kind of ‘normal’ level of hostile. Like (some, but not all) House Republicans circa 2016 or 2017 before the QAnon crew came in elections after (we still see you, Tea Partiers). However, when it came time for Mace to give closing remarks — all bets were off.
Mace began by saying that the topic of school censorship wasn’t as big of a deal as other censorship. (Okay, why are you here then?) She then starts bringing up private corporations and their Terms of Service (specifically Twitter) and then, social media at large. Mace remembers where she’s at by downplaying the librarian, teacher, and parent witnesses by saying they aren’t giving an “accurate representation of what’s truly going on.” Maybe if she had some statistic or another related witness (instead of trying to make this a conversation about college students not liking Ben Shapiro), Mace could’ve pointed to … something. However, the focus was fleeting as she pivoted away, this time talking about “media censorship.” She said:
We had the end of the 2020 election where mainstream media wouldn’t talk about the business that Hunter Biden was doing, wouldn’t talk about the emails that were on his laptop, and wouldn’t talk about some of the, I would allegeldy say, shady work that he was doing and whether or not [Biden] was a part of that. Doing that at the tail end of an election.
Masks, Hunter Biden’s laptop, Twitter bans, and mainstream news media (in which Fox News is included) were not the point of this formal congressional gathering. The gathering was to talk to the various affected parties like teachers, students, librarians, parents, and authors about the impact of these book bans and challenges on critical thinking and K-12 education. Luckily the circus-like elements of the hearing took up a minority of the time, but this is a pressing situation, and if they want to meet about these other topics, they should hold a meeting on that, too.
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