Book Bans and the Assault on Public Education: New research reveals the staggering number of books being censored in schools across the country.

AuthorFriedman, Jonathan

Over the past year and a half, young people and educators have witnessed a growing campaign to silence voices in our nation's schools. Districts across the country are banning books with unprecedented frequency, directly undermining students' freedom to learn. This movement has gained momentum from local and national advocacy groups with conservative leanings, as well as political pressure from elected officials.

PEN America, where I direct free expression and education programs, recently published research documenting the scope of this threat in stark detail. During the 2021 to 2022 school year-from July 2021 through June 2022-nearly 140 school districts in thirty-two different states issued more than 2,500 book bans.

These bans overwhelmingly targeted books that feature protagonists of color, explore issues of race and racism, tell stories with LGBTQ+ characters, or contain sexual content of any kind. This is blatant suppression, driven by long-held prejudices toward the LGBTQ+ community and extremist Christian attitudes toward sexuality, morality, and American culture.

Demands to ban books in schools are not new. But what is new is the level of organization and coordination driving it. We are now seeing a wide network of advocacy organizations assembling long lists of titles to be purged from school shelves and sharing strategies on how to embarrass, intimidate, or pressure school administrators into appeasing their demands.

Our research found at least fifty of these groups working locally and nationally to advocate for book bans--some of which already have hundreds of independent chapters, like Moms for Liberty, a conservative "parental rights" organization that was founded in December 2020.

These groups pressure schools and school districts to circumvent established guidelines for determining which books should be used in curriculums or available in school libraries. They use the rhetoric of "parental rights" to trump the expertise of educators and librarians, while notably ignoring the differing views of other parents, guardians, and students.

Fewer than 4 percent of the book bans we identified were the result of detailed objections and transparent, considered processes that allowed input and deliberation among professionals and parents together--or even mandated that books be read before they are banned. Writer Farah Jasmine Griffin remarked at a recent PEN America event, "People who read books don't ban them."

In Walton, Florida...

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