By Nicole Chavez, CNN
At least 50 groups have recently played a role in the emerging movement to remove books from schools, a new analysis by PEN America shows.
PEN America, an organization that advocates for literature and free speech, released its latest analysis on Monday of school library book and curriculum bans that took place during the 2021-2022 school year.
Jonathan Friedman, director of free speech and education programs at PEN America and author of the report, said that in the past decade “there has never been an organization of this scale or with this kind of momentum,” but it’s important to understand that these censorship efforts are mostly led by people who aren’t parents and only found out about it Books online without reading them but officials are urging them to be removed from shelves.
The organization identified 50 groups operating at the national, state or local level that campaign for bans in K-12 schools and said the majority of these groups appear to have formed in the last year. They range from local Facebook or online groups to more established conservative organizations.
“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,” said Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America.
One such group is Moms for Liberty, a conservative group that formed to fight for parental rights in Florida last year and has since expanded across the country. PEN America has identified an additional seven national groups with numerous chapters, as well as 38 groups operating at the state, provincial or local level that do not appear to be affiliated with the national groups or with each other, the report said.
“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,” the report said.
Friedman said some of the groups stemmed from “anger fueled against schools” during the pandemic, when some people shared their frustration about school closures, mask requirements or vaccines. Other groups “have been around for a long time and have now moved to pressure schools in new ways or with new success,” he said.
Members of Moms for Liberty have taken podiums at school board meetings and rallies to protest mask and vaccination requirements, materials in books and curriculum related to racial and LGBTQ rights, and critical race theory (CRT), among other things.
According to PEN America, the actions of these groups can be “directly” linked to at least 20% of the book bans issued in the 2021-2022 school year. These actions included members making statements at school board meetings, submitting a list of books for formal review, or filing papers to challenge books with school districts.
While the people of America have the right to organize and defend themselves under the First Amendment, PEN America says it cares how and how often these tactics are used with the “ultimate goal of restricting or banning books.” Schools give in to the demands of the groups without protest.
“Parents and community members play an important role in shaping what students learn in school, but this goes well beyond organic expressions of concern or the normal give and take between parents and educators in a healthy school environment,” Nossel said. “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.”
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As part of its report, PEN America released an updated count of book bans. From July 2021 to June 2022, there were 2,532 book bans targeting 1,648 different titles, according to the group.
About 41% of these were books that tell stories about LGBTQ people or that have a queer lead or prominent supporting character, the report said. Another 40% of titles have protagonists who are people of color, while 21% of titles directly address race and racism issues, the report said.
The findings are similar to those released last week by the American Library Association, which said efforts to censor books in the US are on track to surpass last year’s figure.
The ALA’s Bureau of Freedom of Thoughts tracked 681 attempts nationwide between January 1 and August 31 to ban or restrict “library resources” in K-12 schools, colleges and public libraries.
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The group tracked 729 book challenges in 2021 based on direct reports to the ALA, reporting and public records. The ALA said it was the highest number of attempted book bans since the organization began compiling its list of most contested books.
The organization has been collecting data on banned books since 1990, but has published a list of the most affected books since at least 2001.
“The unprecedented number of challenges we are seeing already this year reflects a coordinated national effort to silence marginalized or historically underrepresented voices and deprive all of us – especially young people – of the opportunity to experience a world beyond the confines of personal experience to explore,” said ALA President Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada.
The CNN Wire
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