More than 1,600 books were banned in more than 5,000 schools last school year, with most of the bans targeting titles related to the LGBTQ community or race and racism, according to a new report.
PEN America, a nonprofit group that advocates for free expression in literature, launched a report on mondaythe beginning of Banned Books Weekshowing the wide scope of efforts to ban certain books during the 2021-22 school year.
It found that there were 2,532 instances of individual book bans, affecting 1,648 titles, meaning the same titles were attacked multiple times in different districts and states.
The books were banned in 5,049 schools with a combined enrollment of nearly 4 million students in 32 states, according to the report.
Because PEN America limited itself to documented cases of bans, which included reports to the parent group and school staff members and news reports on book bans, the report says its data likely underestimates the actual number of bans.
Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, said recent efforts to ban books are a new phenomenon led primarily by a small number of conservative advocacy groups who believe parents don’t have enough control over what their children are learning.
“We can all agree that parents deserve and have the right to have a say in their children’s education,” Nossel said at a news conference hosted by PEN America on Monday. “That is absolutely essential. But fundamentally, that’s not what it’s all about when parents mobilize in an orchestrated campaign to intimidate teachers and librarians into dictating that certain books be removed from the shelves before they’ve even been read or reviewed. That goes beyond the reasonable and legitimate right of a parent to have a give and take with the school, things that are enshrined in parent-teacher conferences and PTAs.”
Preliminary data published Friday by the American Library Association, or ALA, found that the number of attempts to ban or restrict library resources in schools, universities and public libraries is on track to surpass record counts for 2021.
From January 1 through August 31, the ALA documented 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, targeting 1,651 library titles, compared with 729 attempts for all of last year, targeting 1,597 books .
The PEN America report said that nearly all of the book bans, 96%, were enacted without schools or districts following the best practice guidelines for book challenges outlined by the TO and the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Before the wave of book bans, parents sometimes raised concerns with their children’s schools or teachers about the books their children brought home, said Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s director of education programs and free expression. .
But now, conservative groups and parents are Googling books that have some LGBTQ content, and then a conservative group adds it to a list of inappropriate books, Friedman said.
“They complain about books online, the books go on a list, the list gets a sense of legitimacy, and then being on the list makes a school district react to that list and take it seriously,” Friedman said, and added. that in almost all cases, the cycle occurs with no regard for process or policy.
Friedman pointed to a case in Walton County, Florida, where a popular children’s book called «Babies Everywhere» landed on a banned books list last spring. Some of the illustrations include what could be construed as same-sex couples, but they are never identified as such in the text. The Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative nonprofit group focused on education, included it in its 2021 «Report on Pornography in Schools.»
Of the 1,648 titles that were banned last year, according to the report, 41% explicitly address LGBTQ issues or have prominent LGBTQ leads or supporting characters, and 40% include leads or supporting characters of color.
More than a fifth (21%) directly address issues of race and racism, and 22% include sexual content of various kinds, including novels with some level of depiction of adolescent sexual experiences; stories about teen pregnancy, sexual assault, and abortion; and informational books about puberty, sex, or relationships.
The report estimates that at least 40% of the bans listed in PEN America’s School Book Bans Index they are related to proposed or enacted legislation or political pressure from elected officials to restrict the teaching of certain concepts.
PEN America also found at least 50 groups involved in pushing for the book ban, 73% of which have been formed since last year. One of the largest is Moms for Liberty, a parental rights advocacy group, which lists more than 200 local chapters on your website.
Tiffany Justice, co-founder of Moms for Liberty, said teachers should value parental input.
«I mean, there are not two sides to this issue,» Justice said in a interview on “CBS Saturday Morning”. “There are moms who love their kids, who don’t want pornography at school, and then there are people who do want pornography at school. I think the theme of the book has been used to try to marginalize and vilify parents. And the truth is, there is no place for pornography in public schools.”
The 50 groups identified by the report have been involved in at least half of the book bans enacted in the past year, and at least 20% of the bans can be directly linked to the groups’ actions, according to the report.
The most frequently banned books were «Gender Queer: A Memoir» by Maia Kobabe, followed by «All Boys Aren’t Blue» by George M. Johnson and «Out of Darkness» by Ashley Hope Perez, according to the report. .
Perez said what’s surprising about his book being banned in 24 school districts is that it was published in 2015 and wasn’t challenged until last year. She said some right-wing groups have used words like «pornographic,» «inappropriate,» «controversial» and «divisive» to describe banned books and that the books they describe are often written by or about non-whites and other minorities.
“Books are a pretext. It is a proxy war against students who share the marginalized identities of the authors and characters in the attacked books,” she said at Monday’s press conference. “It is a political strategy. The goal is to stimulate political engagement on the right by drawing even clearer lines around specific identities.”
She said banning the books hurts students in a number of ways. When a student shares a gender or sexual identity with a character in a book and that book is banned, she «sends the message that stories about people like them are not suitable for school.»
By giving in to their demands, the schools give conservative groups undeserved legitimacy, he said.
“When school leaders cave to these pressures, they elevate the questionable judgment of a handful of parents above the professional discretion and training of librarians and educators and, above all, above the needs of students,” he said.