The Banality of Book Banning


I say that you cannot administer a wicked law impartially. You can only destroy, you can only punish. And I warn you, that a wicked law, like cholera, destroys everyone it touches. Its upholders as well as its defiers.

Inherit the Wind, Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edward Lee

Note: This Post Was Originally Published at the Mad Sociologist Blog

In 1963, philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the term “Banality of Evil.” It’s been a source of debate ever since. Her thesis was that the kind of evil perpetrated by national regimes, in her case the Nazi Party of Germany, often relied on innocuous bureaucrats like Adolf Eichmann to institute and do the actual work of evil in the normal course of their jobs. For Arendt, the ordinariness of Eichmann despite the evil role he played in genocide was evidence of a different kind of evil. An evil that resides in individuals who, without moral reflection, enact evil policy despite lacking evil intent. Modern society values the worker who wants only to do his job competently, follow the rules, and go about his life. For Eichmann, that accepted moral virtue involved executing Hitler’s Final Solution to exterminate Jews.

One can argue the nuances of this particular case. Just how “ordinary” and “non-reflexive” was Eichmann? Arendt’s point remains apt. For evil to persist at the societal level, it must do so with the consent of those actually doing the work of evil. Maybe some such people are true believers, actively willing to perpetuate the evil of the state. Many others, however, are just people who want to do their jobs and live their lives without conflict.

When authoritarians seize the vehicles of the state, as they have in the Free State of Florida, they exercise that power by passing authoritarian laws. Every law, however, must be instituted through policy at the local level. This is where the real evil takes place. This is where authoritarianism is imposed. It’s fair to say that not everyone involved in instituted authoritarian policy is, themselves, an authoritarian. More often than not, they are simply petty bureaucrats doing their jobs, trying to impartially administer the law to the best of their ability.

Of course, laws are never impartially administered. If a law is oppressive, or wicked, then the administration will be likewise oppressive or wicked.

Here in my local school district we are witnessing Arendt’s Banality of Evil in action. The authoritarian Republican Party controlling the state government has instituted book bans at the school level. It is now up to individual districts to figure out how to administer these bans. The media is currently awash with reports of book banning throughout the state, with some school districts taking more radical steps than others.

My county has just released its policy, introduced to the public via YouTube.

Here we see the banality of book banning (whether or not you want to define this as evil). According to the video, this is really no big deal. You just have to scan the books from your classroom library into a database and then download the information from that database into an Excel Sheet, then download that data to a centralized folder where the titles can be reviewed by a trained media specialist.

In the video, Dr. Bernier states, “we are not asking you to remove any books…” That’s the public facing policy on YouTube. It’s not a lie. At this point, the district is not asking teachers to remove any books from their classroom libraries. However, the non-public facing information can be found in the directions teachers received in the same email in which this video was shared. Books are being reviewed for a reason. Books that are not approved must be removed. In this case, the books must be approved by August 10th or they must be removed.

So, yes. Ultimately a decision will be made by someone other than the classroom teacher whether a book will remain or be removed from the classroom.

When I inquired on the discrepancy between what Dr. Bernier said in the video and directions given in the email, I was informed that the district wants teachers to go through the process rather than just saying “screw it” and eliminating their classroom libraries.

For many years the district was dedicated to creating “reading rich” environments in the classroom and encouraged classroom libraries that included books set aside just for pleasure reading and student interest regardless of the course content. The district, quite rightly, wants to preserve these reading rich environments just, to quote my administrator, “….within the legal parameters.” In other words, we must impartially administer this wicked law.

I tried to explain to my administrator the weight of the moral compromises teachers are being asked to make in participating in a process that will result in banned books. Once these datasets are downloaded, they become public record in our state. Parents are empowered to sue teachers if they suspect indoctrination. It’s understandable that teachers might say, “to hell with it” and just empty their libraries. This was a subject of an earlier blog post.

My administrator did not understand. The issue was framed in terms of protecting teachers. If a book is vetted, then a parent cannot complain about the book being in the class library. This, however, is not true. A parent can complain and have any book reviewed and removed regardless of whether it’s been vetted. And our district will defer to the “parents’ rights.” My administrator also stated that if a teacher thinks a book might be “inappropriate” then it shouldn’t be made available to students anyway.

See. This is all about protecting teachers. Big brother will protect you…even from yourself.

It’s a ridiculous proposition. It’s not like teachers are debating whether it is appropriate or not to keep Fifty Shades of Grey on their shelves. This is about teachers wondering if their jobs are on the line if a parent complains about A People’s History or The 1619 Project. Books are not subject to being banned because of content inappropriate to the student’s age. They are subject to removal based on perspectives of race and gender that do not align with the authoritarian ideology.

This policy bans books in multiple ways.

The first is manifest in the policy itself. Someone, we know not who, can decide that I must remove a particular book from my classroom. As it stands, there is no appeal process by which the decision to remove a book can be challenged. At least nobody seems to know if there is such a process.

Then there are the latent consequences of the policy. In this case, teachers will self-censor. Many will just eliminate books from their classrooms entirely because it is not worth the effort to scan and submit every book. I have over seven hundred books in my library. It has taken me about ten hours to scan each title. That’s a daunting increase in a teacher’s workload…especially at the end of the year.

Teachers may also self-center based on the level of surveillance now instituted. Realistically, I could have The 1619 Project on my shelf with nobody at the administrative or district level knowing or caring unless a parent complained. And parents would likely not complain because they almost certainly wouldn’t know unless their child told them. Not likely. Now, I have to submit all of my books to scrutiny. I might be inclined to mitigate the risk by removing the potentially offensive book.

Furthermore, I know that having Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead or any of Dinesh D’Souza’s blather on my shelf will not be a problem. Consequently, the only critical analysis offered students will be from the approved ideology.

That’s called indoctrination.

A further claim offered by the authoritarians is that this policy does not constitute a “book ban” because students can always get any of these books from the public library or from the books store. This is a weak claim. For many students, classroom libraries are the only access that students have to books, especially when it comes to critical points of view. Students will not seek out books from libraries or bookstores or that they do not know exist. It’s in the classroom that students often get their first access to critical knowledge.

As it stands, many of my peers are taking the path of least resistance. They have mortgages and car payments. They have children going to college. They can’t afford to sacrifice their jobs for a cause. So, they are taking their books home. History teachers are are stripping their classroom libraries of anything that might smack of Critical Race Theory or Diversity and Inclusion. Literature teachers are expunging anything that smacks of Gender, Racial, or Ethnic Diversity. Art teachers are getting rid of anything that might be interpreted as sexually explicit.

As I explained to my administrator, teachers are now in a position in which they must make moral decisions based on their conscience as well as their circumstances. Obviously, some of us feel more dedicated to resisting wicked policy than others. Some teachers may wholeheartedly agree with the policy. Most, however, must make their way through this moral quagmire in the best way they can for themselves and their own children. These are not easy decisions.

What is being imposed is an environment of fear. Fear is the driving force of authoritarianism and fascism. Perpetuating fear is in many ways a banal act of people just doing their jobs by impartially administering the law.

The College Board Just Revealed Itself


There are two reasons for conceding to Fascists and two reasons only. First, cowardice. Second, and even worse, profit motive.

When DeSantis the First attacked the College Board’s new African American Studies program by banning it in the Free State, it was understandably addressed as an assault on academic freedom as well as an act of standard right-wing, white-nationalist dedication to ignorance and racism. Defending the College Board was defending a comprehensive academic institution dedicated to critical thought and well-rounded learning. It was a noble endeavor defending a noble organization.

We lost sight of the fact that the College Board is not an academic institution dedicated to truth, knowledge, and comprehensive critical thought. It is a business, dedicated to making money.

So, it should come as no surprise that, when faced with the prospects of losing market share in one of the largest states in the Union, the College Board discarded academic ethics like used packaging. After all, academics is nothing more than packaging used to sell the College Board’s product.

I have taken great joy and pride in teaching Advanced Placement history courses in the past. I enjoyed the expansive curricula that allowed me, as a teacher, to cover broad scopes of history while exercising significant creativity in how I presented the courses. I reveled in how the College Board not only encouraged critical and analytical thought, it was a requirement for earning credit. I really felt that my students taking AP World History and AP U.S. History were getting “real” history in my class. In other words, instead of just learning a lot of historical stuff, they were learning how to think like historians.

I really believed that the College Board was dedicated to real scholarship and real education. That was my previous experience. Now that they’ve caved to the most explicit fascist voice in the United States today, I realize how naive I was.

The College Board is a business. And businesses do not resist fascism. Doing so is much to costly to the bottom line.

I’m ashamed of the College Board.

The Free State of DeSantis and the Fate of Public Education


If there were any doubt about DeSantis the First’s endgame with regard to public education, it has become painfully clear as we enter into the state’s legislative session. It is clear that the goal is to do away with meaningful education as a public good and create a two-tier system where the wealthy get quality schooling while the dregs of society… you know,  people who work for a living… get state indoctrination.

This last weak, DeSantis I announce his latest effort to do away with teachers’ unions under the guise of paycheck protection. He and his lapdogs in the legislature plan to pass a law doing away with automatic deductions for union dues. Instead of school districts deducting dues automatically from a teacher’s pay for union dues, the teacher will be expected to send monthly checks to the union to maintain their membership. It is predicted that this inconveniences can cost unions as much as a third of their membership.

DeSantis I intends to add even more barriers. For instance, aspiring union members will have to sign a written statement with the principal acknowledging that Florida is a “right to work” state and union membership isn’t required for employment.

A couple years ago, the neo-fascists passed legislation requiring teachers’ unions to maintain 50% density. If membership falls below this threshold, the state can decertify the union’s charter.

Herr DeSantis is not satisfied with this. After the law was passed, unions amped up their membership drives to keep their numbers up. So the Grand Governor is proposing upping that arbitrary requirement to 60%.

If that doesn’t work, he’ll up the requirement to 75%…80%.

He will get rid of teachers’ unions. When he does, districts will write their own contracts and teachers will take it or leave it.

If the current teacher shortage is any indication, they’ll leave it.

Not to worry. The neo-fascists have a plan. A bill is being proposed to provide universal vouchers, without regard to income. How this will work is any parent will be able to get a voucher for the public school allocation for their child, currently about $8,100 per year, to put toward tuition for a private school.

Of course, the average tuition for a private school in Florida is almost $10,000 per year. Once these vouchers come on line, however, the demand for private schools will increase and, because we can’t regulate the free market, tuition will rise accordingly. Poor and working-class students will not be able to afford the tuition for even a mediocre private school. Their only options will be a subpar private school–and there are plenty of those–or grossly underfunded and understaffed public schools.

Where will the teachers come from? Professionally trained teachers are dropping like flies. With the unions gone, there will be no collective bargaining. That means less pay, fewer benefits, and more arduous work conditions. We can’t keep teachers as it is.

Not to worry. Only the most elite private schools care about professional certification. Standard private schools do not require professional credentials, but certainly the most talented teachers, regardless of credentials, will find their way to the high-end private schools. That leaves the low-end private and public schools who will be forced to hire just about anyone they can to put a warm body in an overcrowded classroom.

I mean, what the hell. After all, anyone can teach.

And credentials will hardly matter anyway because by that point all the teacher will have to do is read the script pre-approved by the DeSantisites in Tallahassee and use the pre-approved DeSantisian curriculum specially designed to make sure that real American students never get their fragile feelings hurt, then pass the pre-approved exams that DeSantis will put into effect in order to “reduce testing.”

I’ve been talking about this endgame for about twenty years. The goal is to do away with public education entirely. It always has been. I was scoffed as being overly dramatic.

Subversive Teaching


We Need Strategies for Subversion

I recently participated in a forum with the American Historical Association with regard to teaching history at the secondary level under the new strictures from fascist politicians like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott. Laws like Florida’s censorship of so-called Critical Race Theory and flat-out banning of The 1619 Project from classrooms are a threat to anyone who believes that a comprehensive and critical history curriculum is important for all citizens in a democracy.1 The policies are also anathema to anyone who believes that academic freedom is the best policy for securing a quality education for all students.

I must say that the representatives from the AHA were well-meaning and demonstrated a deep concern for us secondary level history teachers on the front lines of the discipline. It was gratifying that their first step was to come to us as respected professionals to find out what we needed to help us in the face of this new, authoritarian environment. Unfortunately, they were asking the wrong questions.

The underlying question they seemed to be asking was, “how can we as an organization help secondary teachers teach with integrity while at the same time obeying the law?” The answer is, “you can’t.” These laws are wicked, and must be disobeyed by anyone who takes their professional obligations as an educator and as an academic seriously.

I say that you cannot administer a wicked law impartially. You can only destroy, you can only punish. And I warn you, that a wicked law, like cholera, destroys every one it touches. Its upholders as well as its defiers.

Inherit the Wind, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee

So, as the organizer asked, “Is there anything that we can do to help you as teachers,” my thought was, ‘well, if I teach something that a parent believes to be objectionable, I can be sued…so, a legal defense fund would be nice.’

The bottom line is that teachers do not need more curriculum materials. Not that we’ll ever turn down free curriculum materials (or free anything else for that matter). What we need are avenues and tactics by which we can subvert the law.

I would never teach such stuff. Teaching this stuff is against the law. So I expressly forbid anyone scanning this QR Code.

This website is just such an avenue. It’s a private site that I specifically do not use as a curriculum resource. In fact, all around my classroom, there are QR Codes that open to Dangerous Knowledge, but they are all specifically labeled “Under no circumstances should you scan this QR Code.”

I have the relevant text of the legislation printed out and posted in the front of my classroom, so whenever the conversation strays to something that might be considered “Critical Race Theory,” I direct students to the law.

For instance, in a discussion about redlining in my Sociology Class I immediately stood in front of the guiding text of the law and explained…

“Yes, banks and many federal and state programs denied loans to African Americans and would not finance loans for improvement of properties in African American communities. That made it near impossible for African Americans to benefit from the same opportunities to gain wealth through housing that was available to other Americans. Furthermore, this was instituted in the law…but that’s an example of Critical Race Theory and [pointing to the text of the law] teacher Critical Race Theory is against the law. So I will, under no circumstances, teach you that this happened. And I will in no way insinuate that this historical fact is still materially significant today.”

When discussing the Great Recession the discussion turned to the fact that African Americans disproportionately held subprime mortgages despite qualifying for prime mortgages when they applied. A lot of this had to do with the fact that many African American homeowners were the first generation in their families to hold a mortgage and, therefore, had nobody to advise them on how to negotiate these loans in their interests. They were first-time home buyers, of course, because of the policy described above in the discussion about Red Lining.

Again, “what I just described is, according to the law, Critical Race Theory. It is illegal for me to teach you Critical Race Theory, so I will not do so.”

Obviously, this ruse will fool nobody. But it’s the best I can think of. Really, what else can I do? When I became a teacher I had to sign on to a very clear Code of Ethics. As a member of the American Historical Association and the American Sociological Association, I also agreed to accept their professional standards of ethical conduct. I also must hold myself accountable as a responsible adult charged with maximizing the human potential of all students in my care.

Fortunately, all of these different ethical influences align. I’m not to discriminate, I’m not to cause harm, I’m not to falsely represent the academic revelations of my discipline, and I must share a comprehensive and critical context associated with all of the lessons I plan. These are Codes of Ethics that every parent should assume that I will uphold when their children are under my tutelage.

The only dictate that I’m expected to follow that does not align with the ethical standards of these three institutions is the law. Hence I’m faced with the age-old question, what should I do when what I know to be right contradicts the law?

There’s no one good answer. The wages for disobedience are, for many, severe. It is no testament to anyone’s character that they choose to obey the law and protect their livelihoods, putting their own children first of those of their students. Wicked laws force us onto this moral tightrope. That’s how we know they are wicked. And it’s easy to legitimize. After all, most of my students’ parents either voted for the fascist Governor and his equally fascist legislators who made this wicked law possible, or they didn’t bother to vote at all. So, there. Now your kids can remain ignorant because that’s what you actively or tacitly want.

On the other hand, the people we admire the most are those who took a stand against wicked laws by finding innovative avenues of disobedience.

If organizations like the AHA, or the ASA or any association dedicated to the advancement of human knowledge wants to help they can start here. We don’t need better informational pamphlets. We need political cover. We need resources by which we can be disobedient. We need innovative and nuanced methods of subversive teaching so we can do what’s right for our students.


  1. It should go without saying that such legislation is not an unfortunate side-effect of otherwise well-meaning legislation. Indeed, censorious legislation is the fundamental to the fascist agenda. Step one for any fascist movement is to gain control of a nation’s historical discourse. This is done by a. Creating a mythology that reflects the self-interest and perception of the “true” citizens. In other words, this mythology reinforces the beliefs that the target population has about its own superiority, intelligence and virtue. It tells the story about the base that the base wants to hear. b. Eliminating or deligitimizing any avenue by which this mythology may be challenged.

Welcome to Dangerous Knowledge


This website is dedicated to something we are calling “Dangerous Knowledge.” This category infers that there is something out there that could be referred to as “Safe Knowledge” or maybe even just “Knowledge.” So, what is meant by “Dangerous Knowledge”, and why should people care to participate in what this website aspires to offer?

Human society is driven by knowledge. Knowledge is the foundation of human identity and motivation. As such, complex structures and agencies are in place for constructing, reproducing and perpetuating knowledge, while subtle value systems help us determine what constitutes the right kind of knowledge and encourage us to reject the wrong kind of knowledge. Knowledge is not an innate characteristic of human beings and human culture. It is intentionally constructed through complex interactions between individuals, groups and institutions.

But what is it?

Well, in essence, knowledge is the story that we tell about ourselves in relation to the world around us that is accepted as valid by those with whom we share it. So, knowledge has two basic components. Knowledge is revealed, and knowledge is accepted. The story we tell does not have to be true in the scientific sense. It can be entirely fantastic. It can be poetic. It can be shared in technical jargon. If it is shared, and it is accepted as a valid story, then it becomes more than a story. Shared and accepted knowledge becomes the foundation of human endeavor. Without knowledge, humanity is impossible.

At the personal level, knowledge is incorporated into our identities. We are what we know about ourselves in conjunction with what others know about us. So, at the micro level, knowledge is the foundation of human identity and human relationships.

At the larger, societal level, knowledge serves two immediate purposes. Society can be understood as a shared story by which its members embrace a common understanding of the world around them. It is through this collective story that members of a society form a consensus about who we are and how we belong together. We can embrace a collective identity as Americans, or Catholics, or Yankees fans, or Trekkies that we incorporate into our personal identities as well as into our presentation of self to those around us. They, in turn, can determine how their own stories fit in with ours. So, the first function of knowledge is the formation of a binding consensus. This is largely a good thing.

There is, however, a potentially darker side to knowledge that must be understood. Since knowledge shapes identity and motivates human endeavor, stories must be told that encourage people to do the work necessary to perpetuate society. The stories we tell determine how we form families, why we go to church, our voting patterns, the hobbies we have, the work we do. Individuals expend their energy and spend their time not just on their own pursuits, but in the interest of larger social forces. This is a necessary component of social institutions. Social institutions, like family, or the market, or the government, construct stories about their own centrality and importance, and people accept these stories as valid and offer their own labor to perpetuate the institutions. There is no other way. So, the second characteristic of knowledge is that it motivates human behavior.

And this is where it gets tricky because knowledge does not necessarily happen organically. It is constructed through social forces and reproduced through social groups–all of which are ultimately composed of human beings with their own interests. Stories don’t just happen. They are told. The tellers have their reasons for telling. These reasons may be benign, even beneficial, as when we tell stories that bind us together in a common cause, or when we tell stories by which we develop a sense of sympathy and empathy for others.

Sometimes, however, the stories that are told, the knowledge that is constructed, is more malevolent. Their intent is to manipulate and exploit. They are the stories of the cons, the snake-oil vendors, and their shills. These malign forms of knowledge are defined by this website as Authoritarian Knowledge.

Authoritarian Knowledge or stories can be juxtaposed with what could be called Democratic Knowledge. Democratic Knowledge is consensus-driven. It emphasizes inclusion, community, and shared common humanity while acknowledging individual distinction and creativity as a human good. Finally, Democratic Knowledge is subject to evaluation, challenge. and change. Democratic Knowledge is thus, inherently dynamic–which sometimes means that Democratic Knowledge can be destabilizing during times of uncertainty.

Authoritarian stories share some common elements. First, they confirm the legitimacy of unequal power dynamics that result in the exploitation of one group, what we can call the demos, in the interests of another (often much smaller) group, which we can refer to as the authority. Secondly, they seek to diminish the power of the demos. This is done in two ways. These malign stories may define the demos as inferior, morally, culturally, genetically, or biologically and therefore deserving of exploitation. Additionally, they seek to fragment the demos by “othering” some segment or segments of the demos as a threat or as being less deserving of human consideration. This divisive story is often told in terms of race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, ideology, or any other characteristic that might serve as a signal of distinction. Finally, Authoritarian stories are held as sacred, not subject to challenge or contradiction by other stories.

In any given society we see an inherent tension between Authoritarian and Democratic forms of knowledge. At any given time, or in any given context, Authoritarian stories may come to dominate a given social group, institution, or larger society. This often happens as a result of social uncertainty and instability associated with Democratic stories. Sociologists refer to such periods of uncertainty and instability as anomic. During anomic times, the security offered by Authoritarian stories becomes attractive. Over time, Authoritarian stories can become entrenched into the culture, become incorrigible propositions or what could be referred to as “common sense.” An exploitative status quo then becomes the binding story of the larger society. Authoritarian common sense is the underlying story justifying racism, sexism, homophobia and many other divisive concepts.

This leads us to the third quality–knowledge challenges status quo arrangements. When it comes to Democratic Knowledge, challenge is an intrinsic, even welcome, component. Authoritarian stories, however, are sacrosanct or not subject to challenge. Any story that might serve to challenge Authoritarian common sense is, therefore, dangerous–Dangerous Knowledge. Any Authoritarian regime must silence Dangerous Knowledge if it is to preserve the perceived legitimacy of its own authority. This is done through censorship and/or by discrediting the dangerous stories or storytellers. Regardless, Dangerous Knowledge cannot be tolerated in an Authoritarian regime.

Today we see a renaissance in Authoritarian storytelling in ways many of us (though not all of us) believed we had left behind long ago. The regimes rising in the verse of such stories are actively engaged in censoring and/or discrediting Dangerous Knowledge wherever they see it. For many years Authoritarians have attacked media organizations, collective organizations such as unions, and educational institutions including colleges and universities as well as public school curricula. Any avenue by which Dangerous Knowledge can be spread, or Democratic Stories may be told, has been subject to relentless authoritarian propaganda. Now Authoritarians are in positions by which they can directly censor Dangerous Knowledge.

This website is intended to combat this Authoritarian tendency in our current culture by offering a repository of Dangerous Knowledge that the cons and shills would rather we not see. If this is something that interests you, then sign up for updates or, if you are even more passionate about combating authoritarianism, contact me for ways to participate.