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Governor says Utahns should 'pump the brakes' over banning books in schools

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his monthly news conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021.
Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his monthly news conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. Cox said Utahns should “pump the brakes” over the idea of banning or pulling books from school libraries.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Gov. Spencer Cox said Utahns should "pump the brakes" over the idea of banning or pulling books from school libraries.

"Any student of history knows that banning books never ends up well," Cox said Thursday during his monthly PBS Utah news conference. "Now it's one thing again to say, 'This isn't age appropriate,' and it's another thing to say, 'Hey we're making your kids read this book,' right? ... But just having a book available for kids who maybe see things differently or who are interested in that, let's just be cautious out there.

"I'm not saying every book should be in every classroom," the governor said. "There are probably some books that shouldn't be in our schools. But let's be thoughtful about it. Let's take a step back, take a deep breath and make sure that we're not doing something we'll regret."

Cox was asked about a report regarding parents in Washington County pushing to ban books from school libraries over concerns about explicit language, race, sexual and gender identity.

KSL.com first reported Wednesday that an email from a parent prompted officials in the Canyons School District to pull nine different books from high school libraries at Alta High, Brighton High, Corner Canyon High and Jordan High. The parent said she believes some of the books' content "falls under pornographic material" and described some excerpts as "extremely graphic and detailed."

"I think that books should be appropriate for grade levels," the governor said. "Explicit language, I certainly have some concerns about. But we really should pump the brakes on the idea of getting rid of books."

Cox said he believes parents should engage with their children and know what's happening in their classrooms and what is being taught. He said some of the best conversations he's ever had with his own children have been over controversial topics that they have discussed together as a family.

"Now, teachers should not be trying to politicize or push their views on kids, but man, I don't know what happened where ... we treat kids like they don't have brains. We don't give them an opportunity to think and to discuss and debate," he said.

The governor said his favorite classes in high school included assignments that forced him to research arguments that were different from his own beliefs.

"I remember we were assigned the death penalty. And you didn't get to vote on which side you took, you got assigned," he said. "Then we had to argue with each other. Those were the best classes — especially when I got assigned a topic I didn't believe in, when I had to argue the other side of it.

"It made me a better person. It helped me understand people."