That didn’t take long.
Just three days after Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill was signed into law, one of Pennsylvania’s own state senators announced he’s introducing his own Keystone-flavored version, which would ban library books that someone — anyone? — decides are “sexually explicit.”
Lancaster County Sen. Ryan Aument is sponsoring the legislation because, he says, “Parents must be confident that their children are receiving a quality education in our schools without being exposed to inappropriate, sexually explicit content.”
Unfortunately, judging from the poor grammar and language in Aument’s cosponsorship memo, he wouldn’t know “quality education” if it burned up in a book bonfire.
First, there’s the memo’s lack of precision. It reads in part: “parents have identified books and assignments provided to their children that contain sexually explicit content that adults would be prohibited from viewing while at work.” That regulation depends on where those adults work — how many people have jobs where they can sit around reading for pleasure? — but “sexually explicit,” we’ve learned, means different things to different people. Effective writing, not to mention effective laws, must be precise to convey the proper meaning.
When pressed, Aument gave three examples deep in a Twitter thread: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (a Time Magazine No. 1 Book of the Year and National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist), Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe (a 2020 American Library Association award winner for books for teens and adults), and It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley (an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book). Not exactly Penthouse Forum.
Then there’s the memo’s grammar. Witness a single sentence: “To that end, my bill would require schools to identify sexually explicit content in school curriculum, materials, and books and notify parents that their child’s coursework includes such content or that a book their child wishes to view in the school library contains explicit content.” That 45-word monstrosity contains singular nouns that should be plural (curriculum), is missing a crucial comma (after books), and is an obvious run-on.
But it’s all OK, because Aument knows books.
As fun as it is to pick apart legislators’ poor grammar — which we could joyfully do all day — doing so misses the point: that when lawmakers adopt fringe positions meant to rile and rally their political base, they often screw up the basics.
One could ask why Aument is introducing this bill right now. One could speculate that he’s an opportunistic copycat riding a wave of homophobic hysteria currently coursing through electoral politics. One might cite as evidence the fact that, one month from now, the Lancaster County Republican is facing a primary battle from Mike Miller, an opponent who’s running to his right, and whose campaign website opens to a photo of Miller with Donald Trump, and features a lengthy page questioning Aument’s conservative credentials.
If one were so inclined.
But if Aument, Miller, or anyone in Pennsylvania’s Legislature is genuinely concerned with our schools providing a “quality education,” they should look to their own education first. Master the fundamentals of writing, and then we can start considering your reading recommendations.
Assuming you haven’t burned down the whole library at that point.
The Grammarian, otherwise known as Jeffrey Barg, looks at how language, grammar, and punctuation shape our world, and appears biweekly. Send comments, questions, and sentence fragments to email@example.com.