A retired Navy officer who served on the USS Theodore Roosevelt during 9/11 joined parents in speaking out against book banning at a recent school board meeting in Martin County, Florida. Wess Rexrode, 54, spent the last decade of his naval career combating religious extremism abroad and was shocked to encounter similar attitudes in the US.
Rexrode spoke out against those who used a new Florida law to ban 92 books from the county’s public schools and libraries, including works by Jodi Picoult and Toni Morrison. A member of Moms for Liberty had objected to the books without reading them. Rexrode urged the board to consider the implications of banning books and to promote transparency.
As a father of a 14-year-old, Rexrode stated that he is capable of deciding what his son can read and does not need others to make that choice. Growing up in rural South Carolina, books helped Rexrode escape poverty and sparked his love of reading. He credited his parents for trusting educators and librarians to guide his reading choices.
Now a single dad working in commercial nuclear power, Rexrode believes that children should be exposed to various perspectives to develop critical thinking skills. He argued that the domestic push to ban books resembled the religious extremism he fought against during his naval career. Rexrode encouraged the school board to remember the bravery of the Little Rock 9, Black students who integrated an Arkansas high school in 1957, and to stand up against censorship.