By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
This is Banned Books Week, a program of the American Library Association’s Office of Freedom of Thought, which runs through Sunday (September 24). Information can be found here.
Nossel: “A coordinated campaign to ban books”
IIn a strongly worded report released today (September 19), PEN America writes, “Nearly 140 school districts in 32 states issued more than 2,500 book bans in the 2021-22 school year,” describing such censorship as “touching on more than 5,000 individual schools A total of nearly 4 million students are enrolled.”
The report Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools examines what it calls “the emergence and influence of a growing constellation of groups involved in coordinated book banning efforts,” the nonprofit free speech advocacy group , characterizes an alarming picture of politically driven, collaborative efforts, including some aimed at “intimidating, harassing, or firing librarians; and even attempts to suspend or invalidate entire libraries.”
In this concept lies PEN’s main message and loudest alarm: These are not isolated cases. In fact, the report estimates that at least 40 percent of the bans listed in its index are linked to political pressures or legislation aimed at restricting teaching and learning.
“PEN America has identified at least 50 groups advocating for bans at the national, state or local level,” the organization says today. “Many of the groups have local or regional chapters that collectively have at least 300 members.”
More than 70 percent of these groups, including their local chapters, have formed since 2021, according to the report. One of them, called Moms for Liberty, the report said, “has become the most widespread, with more than 200 local chapters identified on their web site.” site. Other national groups with affiliates include US Parents Involved in Education (50 chapters); No Left Turn in Education (25); bulk resistance (16); parental rights in education (12); Maria in the library (9); County Citizens Defending Freedom USA (5); and Power2Parent (5).”
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, says: “While we view book bans as the work of individual concerned citizens, our report shows that today’s wave of bans represents a coordinated campaign to ban books led by sophisticated, ideological and well-resourced advocacy groups organizations. This censorship movement is turning our public schools into political battlefields; driving wedges within communities; forcing teachers and librarians from their jobs; and shiver at the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual freedom that underpins a thriving democracy.
“Parents and community members play an important role in shaping what students learn in school,” says Nossel, “but this goes far beyond organic expressions of concern or the normal give and take between parents and educators in a healthy school environment . These groups have taken on the task of undermining educators, sabotaging students’ freedom to read, and fomenting divisional battles that distract from teaching and learning.”
Top line data points
- An updated “Textbook Ban Index” covering the most recent school year lists 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 individual book titles.
- A total of 674 banned titles (41 percent) explicitly address LGBTQ+ issues or have protagonists or prominent supporting characters who are LGBTQ+.
- Forty percent of banned books—659 banned titles—contain protagonists or prominent black supporting characters.
- There are 338 banned titles (21 percent) that deal directly with race and racism issues.
- Texas ranked first among the states with the most bans (801 in 22 districts), followed by Florida (566 in 21 districts) and Pennsylvania (457 in 11 districts).
The report is being chaired by Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN’s Freedom of Speech and Education program, and Nadine Farid Johnson, who directs PEN in Washington, DC.
Friedman and Johnson write that groups that share lists of books “to employ tactics like swarming school board meetings, demanding newfangled library rating systems, using inflammatory language about ‘nursing’ and ‘pornography,’ and even filing criminal charges against school officials, teachers and librarians.” .
“The majority of these groups appear to have formed in 2021, and many of the book bans counted by PEN America can be linked in some way to their activities. Some of the groups hold Christian nationalist political views, while many have mission statements aimed at reforming public schools, in some cases to offer more religious education. In at least a few documented cases (e.g., Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania), the people filing complaints about books did not have children who attended public schools when they filed objections.
In an interview with CNN The guided tour with Jake Tapper Friedman said today, “The trends are very clear. LGTBQ books, books that deal with race and racism, or books that have any sexual content, whether it’s a young adult fiction book about a couple kissing or a book about a young person teaches about puberty, it’s on the chopping block. And the same books are being targeted everywhere.”
While parents have the right to monitor their children’s reading, he said: “Somebody is asking for a book to be removed. They don’t want it for their own child, but immediately that book is taken away from everyone else. You can’t run schools like that.”
When Friedman says that the same books are targets of censorship efforts in the States, his and Johnson’s statistics bear that out:
- “From July 2021 to June 2022, PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans (Google Sheet) lists 2,532 cases of individual book bans, affecting 1,648 individual book titles.
- “The 1,648 titles come from 1,261 different authors, 290 illustrators and 18 translators and influence the literary, scientific and creative work of a total of 1,553 people.”
The new report includes information on types of book bans being tracked; types of content affected; Legislative changes, district policy changes, pre-emptive bans, “silent bans” and more.
And by focusing on the group-driven prohibition actions they observed, Johnson and Friedman write, “These diverse groups don’t all have the same goals, but they have found common ground in an effort to control and restrict what types of books they are available in schools.
“Broadly speaking, this movement is intertwined with political movements that have grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, including struggles against mask requirements and virtual school, and disputes over ‘critical racial theory,’ which has led some states to introduce bans on educational gags have fueled discussion of “divisive” concepts in classrooms.
“While many of these groups use language about parental rights or religious or conservative views in their mission statements, some also specifically request the exclusion of material touching on race (sometimes explicitly critical of race theory) or LGBTQ+ issues.”
The full report is here.
You can find more from Publishing Perspectives on freedom of expression here, more on freedom of publication here, more on banned books here, and more on PEN America here.
Find out more from us about the coronavirus-COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing here.