Should activism be promoted in classrooms? Most of the general population would say, no, it does NOT belong. But the actions of outside organizations with powerful influence on education are worrisome to parents across the state. The question becomes, how do we stop it?

There is a statewide competition for public schools in North Carolina called the “Battle of the Books.” This starts in fourth grade and goes all the way through high school, allegedly to promote literacy. Battle of the Books has been going on for years, and the North Carolina School Library Media Association (NCSLMA) is in charge of the selection of books. NCSLMA allows people to become members, for a fee, as long as they work in education or an education-related field.

NCSLMA is a 501c6 nonprofit that prizes advocacy for intellectual freedom as among their key purposes. And they believe that part of a school librarian’s job is to empower students to use this freedom to make meaning for themselves through collecting, organizing, and sharing information. But how they define intellectual freedom is concerning.

“Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction,” their intellectual freedom page state. “It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.” 

Yes, without restriction. And if someone challenges a book to be restricted, this organization helps districts with resources to fight the challenge and keep all content in libraries.

Schools are accountable to federal, state, and local policies. But NCSLMA says, “Our mission is to support, promote and empower all school librarians to transform their school communities.” 

NCSLMA is solely responsible to select all books for Battle of the Books, which has fourth and fifth grade, middle school, and high school content. When Battle of the Books lists get posted, all public libraries and public school libraries obtain copies of the books, perhaps even multiple. In New Hanover County, where I am a school board member, NCSLMA currently has access to about 50 schools and libraries where they can reach students. Considering this is a statewide competition, one can imagine the total number in North Carolina, which has 100 counties. 

This organization has unchecked access to hundreds of libraries across the state.  Procedurally, in many counties, once content is in the school library, it is open access for classroom content. In the 2024-2025 school year, NCSLMA selected 16 books for fourth and fifth grade North Carolinians out of the hundreds of thousands of age-appropriate books that are spotlighted for avid book-loving students to read.  

Fourth graders are as young as 9 years old. I do NOT believe their education should be political. Quality literacy promotion does not require advocacy, but activism DOES. Battle of the Books requires our students to read, memorize in great detail, and re-read the list of books chosen by the NCSLMA. So what are these books?

As an example, let’s focus on one, titled “Ban this Book.”  This book discusses the struggles of a young elementary student, Amy Anne, as the school board “bans” multiple books from the school library. She and her friends take it upon themselves to create a “banned book locker library” disguising titles that the school board removed from the school library by wrapping the books in fake covers. 

Throughout the book she has an internal dilemma of “right” and “wrong” as she willingly, intentionally, and deceitfully breaks rules in the positive light to “fight censorship” as the book cover encourages our elementary kids to do. She even justifies it by saying the school board said schools can’t circulate these books, but I’m a kid, so technically I am allowed.

Highlighting activism is what defines “good behavior” at the cost of twisting rules and intentionally lying and deceiving parents and teachers for the greater good. The student also contemplates running away from home since she isn’t getting what she wants from her parents. Later in the book, she decides to “do good” and to stand up for herself and her needs by choosing to run away from home.  

The Battle of the Books content is supposedly highly curated, but my opinion is these titles are intentionally chosen by the political activists at the NCSLMA to influence elementary students. They encourage and praise student activism via defying authority and rules. Furthermore, the organization is strategically set up to defend intellectual freedom, so anyone or any entity that expects accountability in schools is intimidated to speak up.

What now?

Looking towards the future I would encourage the state of North Carolina to NOT continue to give influential power to politically motivated entities like the NCSLMA. Parents have to speak up and be given the tools to advocate for quality public education. We want public schools to promote reading and love of books, but our staff is currently at the mercy of this organization and their political agenda as they are choosing the books.

The fight towards quality education is against activists who have infiltrated the public education system. I am dedicated to finding better options for the students of New Hanover County who share a love and passion for books — options without the influence of political agendas or social biases.