More than 1,600 books were banned in more than 5,000 schools during the past school year, according to a new report, with most of the bans targeting titles related to the LGBTQ community or race and racism.
PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for free speech in literature, released a report Mondaythe beginning of Week of the Forbidden Booksthat shows the sheer scope of efforts to ban certain books during the 2021-2022 school year.
It found that there were 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 titles — meaning the same titles have been targeted multiple times in different districts and states.
Books were banned in 5,049 schools with a combined enrollment of nearly 4 million students in 32 states, the report found.
PEN America used documented cases of bans, including reports to the group from parents and school staff, and news reports about book bans, so the report notes that the data most likely underestimates the true number of bans.
Suzanne Nossel, the CEO of PEN America, said the recent attempts to ban books are a new phenomenon mainly led by a small number of conservative advocacy groups who feel that parents don’t have enough control over what their children learn. .
“We all agree that parents deserve and have the right to have a say in their children’s education,” Nossel said Monday at a press conference hosted by PEN America. “That is absolutely essential. But that is essentially not the point when parents are mobilized in an orchestrated campaign to intimidate teachers and librarians into dictating that certain books must be taken off the shelves before they have been read or reviewed. That goes beyond a parent’s reasonable, legitimate right to give and take with school — things enshrined in parent teacher conferences and PTAs.
PEN America’s report to follow preliminary data released Friday by the American Library Association, or ALA, which found that the number of attempts to ban or restrict library resources in schools, universities and public libraries is on track to exceed the 2021 record number.
From January 1 to August 31, the ALA documented 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, with 1,651 library titles being targeted, compared to 729 attempts for all of last year, targeting 1,597 books.
The PEN America report notes that nearly all book bans — 96% — were issued without the school or district following the best practice guidelines for book challenges outlined by the ala and the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Prior to the wave of book bans, parents sometimes expressed concern about a book their child had taken home from their child’s school or teacher, said Jonathan Friedman, director of free speech and education programs at PEN America.
But now conservative groups and parents are googling to find books that contain LGBTQ content, and then a conservative group adds it to a list of inappropriate books, Friedman said.
“They complain about the books online, the books get listed, the list gets a sense of legitimacy, and when it’s on the list, it leads to a school district responding to that list and taking it seriously,” Friedman said, adding. adding that in almost all cases this cycle takes place without respect for process or policy.
Friedman pointed to a case in Walton County, Florida, where a popular children’s book called “Everywhere Babies” ended up on a banned book list last spring. The illustrations contain what could be interpreted as a same-sex couple, but they are never identified as such in the text. The book was removed from public school libraries in Walton County after the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative nonprofit focused on education, included the book in its 2021 “Porn in Schools Report.”
Of the 1,648 titles banned last year, the report found that 41% explicitly address LGBTQ themes or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ, and 40% contain protagonists or secondary characters of color.
More than a fifth (21%) deal directly with issues of race and racism, and 22% contain various types of sexual content, including novels with some degree of description of teenage sexual experiences, stories of teenage pregnancy, sexual assault and abortion, as well as informational books about puberty, sex or relationships.
The report estimates that at least 40% of the bans on America’s PEN Index of banned textbooks related to proposed or passed legislation, or to political pressure from elected officials to restrict the teaching of certain concepts.
PEN America also found that at least 50 groups were involved in pushing for book bans, 73% of which have been formed since 2021. One of the largest is Moms for Liberty, a parental rights advocacy group that has more than 200 local chapters listed on its website.
Tiffany Justice, co-founder of Moms for Liberty, said parental input should be valued by teachers.
“I mean, there are no two sides to this issue,” Justice said during a… interview on “CBS Saturday Morning.” “There are mothers who love their children, who don’t want porn in school, and there are people who do want porn in school. I think the book edition has been used to try to marginalize and defame 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 issued last year, and at least 20% of the bans can be directly linked to the groups’ actions, the report found. report.
The most banned books were “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, followed by “All Boys Are’t Blue” by George M. Johnson and “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez, the report found.
Pérez said what stands out to her about the fact that her book has been banned in 24 school districts is that it was published in 2015 and wasn’t challenged until 2021. She said some right-wing groups have used terms like “pornographic.” “inappropriate”, “controversial” and “divisive” to describe the banned books, and that the books they describe are mostly by or about non-white people and other minorities.
“The books are a pretext. It’s a proxy war against students who share the marginalized identities of the authors and characters in the books being attacked,” she said at Monday’s press conference. “It is a political strategy. The goal is to fuel right-wing political engagement by drawing even clearer lines around targeted identities.”
She said banning books harms 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, “it sends the message that stories about people like her are not appropriate for school.”
By yielding to the demands of conservative groups, schools give them an undeserved legitimacy, she said.
“When school leaders give in to these pressures, they elevate the questionable judgment of a handful of parents about the professional discretion and training of librarians and educators and, above all, the needs of students,” she said.