The number of books banned in American school districts is increasing, a new report from PEN America has found. Between July 2021 and June 2022, books in US public schools were banned 2,532 times, according to the nonprofit organization that works to defend free speech.
According to PEN American, 1,648 unique book titles were banned during that time. Between July 2021 and March 2022, PEN recorded 1,586 book bans. Since this report was published in April, 275 additional book bans have been recorded between April and June 2022.
Many books – 41% – that were banned contained LGBTQ themes, protagonists or prominent supporting characters. A whopping 40% of those banned were black. Books on topics such as race and racism (21%) and books on topics such as rights and activism (10%) were also among the banned. About 22% of banned books had sexual content. Biographies, autobiographies and stories about religious minorities are also on the list of banned books.
There are several reasons why books can be banned from schools and libraries. Last year, dozens of Republican lawmakers introduced bills that would ban content they deemed objectionable in schools.
PEN America estimates that at least 40% of book bans are related to either legislation “or to political pressure exerted by state officials or elected legislators to restrict the teaching or presence of particular books or concepts.”
PEN America has also identified at least 50 groups, many of which have local or regional groups, that they say played a role in at least 50% of the book bans imposed nationwide in the 2021-2022 school year.
Because of laws targeting content related to race and sexuality, and campaigns by members of the public, schools may feel pressured to remove books from their classrooms and libraries.
The American Library Association (ALA) keeps records of commonly banned books, and some titles are hugely popular – like the Harry Potter series, which made the top 10 most banned books in 2019. This series was created for “referring to magic and witchcraft to contain actual curses and spells, and for characters using ‘nefarious means’ to achieve goals,” according to the ALA.
However, most books are banned because they contain topics about race or sexuality.
Some states ban books containing racial themes by using the term “critical racial theory” in their legislation. Most commonly taught at the college or law school level, critical race theory recognizes that racial differences persist throughout US history and are reinforced in US law and institutions.
Although there is no evidence that critical race theory is taught in K-12 schools, it is often used as a catch-all term in state legislatures — including Texas — to limit discussions of race in the classroom.
Sexually themed books like “gender queer” are often viewed as “obscene” and “pornographic” by those who want to ban them, PEN America said in its report.
Gender Queer, PEN America’s most banned book, was written by Maia Kobabe and is described by its editor as a “useful and touching guide to gender identity.”
Deborah Stone, director of the ALA’s Office of Freedom of Thought, told CBS News last year that books “that reflect the lives of LGBTQIA individuals and families” are an important representation.
“You may not be the audience, your child may not be the audience, but more often than not there is an audience for the books and often they are badly needed,” she said.
PEN America said there is evidence that efforts to ban books will continue in the 2022-2023 school year — at least 139 additional bans have come into effect since July 2022.
“This movement to ban books is deeply undemocratic, as it often seeks to impose restrictions on all students and families based on the preferences of those demanding the bans, and despite polls that consistently show Americans of all political persuasions oppose book bans PEN America said, citing a CBS News poll that found more than 8 in 10 Americans don’t think books should be banned from schools when they discuss race and criticize US history , because they depict slavery in the past or more generally because of political ideas disagreeing with.
First published on 09/20/2022 / 16:09
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