If you’ve read a book in one go in the last year, chances are another book was banned before you finished it.
According to a PEN America report released Monday, a book ban was enacted in a US school district every three and a half hours between July 2021 and July 2022.
The eye-opening report shows just how widespread the book ban has become and how fast it is accelerating. Nearly 140 school districts in 32 states issued more than 2,500 book bans during the 2021-22 school year, affecting nearly 4 million students in 5,000 schools, according to the report, “Banned in the US: The growing movement to censor books in schools”.
This movement also targets public libraries, including efforts to close or defund them and to fire, harass, or intimidate librarians.
“This censorship movement is turning our public schools into political battlegrounds, driving rifts within communities, forcing teachers and librarians out of their jobs, and chilling the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual freedom that underpins a flourishing democracy.” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, in the report.
Book ban efforts have rapidly spread across the country at a rate not seen in decades, fueled in part by politics, social media and increasingly aggressive tactics. Among the books most frequently checked out of classrooms and school libraries are those dealing with race, racism, gender, and sexuality. Books featuring protagonists of color accounted for 40% of banned books; those with LGBTQ characters and themes made up 41%.
The new report also documents the growing number of organizations and coordinated groups stepping up efforts to ban books, with parents and community groups playing some role in at least half of the book bans across the country in the past school year. In some cases, the people who filed book complaints did not have children in public schools at the time. They range from Facebook groups to non-profit organizations like Moms for Liberty.
PEN America counted at least 50 groups promoting bans, most of them established in the last year.
“Groups have found ways to put pressure on school boards and they really weren’t ready for this,” said Jonathan Friedman, author of the report and director of education and free speech programs at PEN America. “Recently, they haven’t advocated for access to diverse literature in school libraries, so many of them were caught off guard…and as a result, have given in to these demands without much process.”
Unsurprisingly, politicians played a major role in many book ban efforts. At least 40% of the bans found in the report were tied to legislation, either proposed or enacted, or legislators and state officials advocating that certain books and concepts be restricted or removed from classrooms.
The new report expands on PEN’s April study, which covered July 2021 to March 2022, the first nine months of the school year.
On Friday, the American Library Assn. published its own findings, counting nearly 700 book challenges in the past eight months, but documenting about the same number of banned unique titles: more than 1,600. Both organizations released their reports in time for Banned Books Week, which began on Sunday.
The three most frequently attacked books, according to PEN America, were Maia Kobabe’s memoir “Gender Queer”, banned in 41 districts; George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” banned in 29 boroughs; and Ashley Hope Perez’s “Out of Darkness,” banned in 24 boroughs. The authors with the most challenged books were those by Ellen Hopkins, Kobabe, and legendary novelist (and perennial target) Toni Morrison.
The states with the most book bans were Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania. California had no documented bans in the report, which it defines as “any action taken against a book based on its content and as a result of parental or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened actions by legislators or others.” governmental authorities”. officials.”
Friedman believes that the growing movement does a lot of harm to students. Beyond not seeing themselves reflected in the books inside school classrooms and libraries, they were also vulnerable to far worse impacts, he said.
“Imagine you are an LGBTQ youth and you see that your school district bans all books that reflect your identity, what does that say about how the adults there think about you and your life choices?” Friedman added. “This could have drastic effects on how people feel about themselves, psychological effects, beyond the fact that it’s also a violation of students’ rights.”
But Friedman pointed out that there is a silver lining; many students and parents are backing down.
“More students are getting involved and seeing this as an issue they need to advocate for in their schools, forming banned book clubs and speaking up at school boards,” Friedman said.
“I think next year we will see more efforts on the ground to really mobilize people to hold school boards to higher standards for how they stand up for their teachers, their libraries and their principles.”