Avalanche of book bans

April 16, 2022

From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters

Only a few of the books that have recently been banned. Photo: textbooks.com

“Banning books in schools is unparalleled in its frequency, intensity and success.” Jonathan Friedman of PEN America (pen.org) summed up a report revealing 1,586 books banned between July 2021 and March 2022. Twenty-two percent of them directly address racism and 33% include LGBTQ+ themes and characters. Titles include: Gender Queer: a Memoir, by Maia Kobabe; Out of Darkness, by Ashley Hope Perez; All Boys Aren’t Blue, by George M. Johnson; Lawn Boy, by Jonathan Evison, and The Bluest Eye, by Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison.

STUDENTS FIGHT BACK

Banned Books clubs are springing up all over the country. In Leander, Texas, two high school sophomores co-founded a “Banned Books Club” to read and discuss critically acclaimed books that had been removed from their school library, like In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. They found the themes of these books mostly about “women, women of color, and non-heterosexual relationships.”

The Texas governor is initiating legislation to set standards against obscene content and State Senator Matt Krause sent a letter to every Texas school district asking if they carried any of the 850 books on his list.

Roosevelt Weeks, Director of Austin Public Libraries, said “If politicians threaten to pull funding if I put this book on the shelves, that is banning…[L]ibraries are the last bastion of democracy.” Others in Texas founded “FReadom Fighters” to challenge the threat of legal action against librarians. They joined a rally at the state capitol led by a youth group, “Voters of Tomorrow.”

“This is an orchestrated attack on books whose subjects only recently gained a foothold on school library shelves and in classrooms,” Friedman said. “We are witnessing the erasure of topics that only recently represented progress toward inclusion.”

The sharp rise in book banning in schools occurs in the context of an onslaught of right-wing state laws censoring what K-12 teachers may discuss in class, covering alleged “instruction” on gender identity and sexual orientation (Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed in March) and racism and its history in America. It is not just the number of books removed by conservatives (who usually claim to support “law and order”). It is alarming that 98% of book bannings have not followed guidelines outlined by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the American Library Association (ALA), guidelines designed to protect First Amendment rights in schools.

–Susan Van Gelder

2 thoughts on “Avalanche of book bans

  1. Just saw what I thought was a satire site quoting Gov. DeSantis as claiming that math was inherently biased. Then they looked more like a direct quote when finding out that Florida was banning a bunch of math books for supposed sins against Florida’s theocracy.

  2. From a recent discussion
    E.: Social and emotional learning came from so many high school age kids dropping out, and with COVID, kids checking out. Originally the concept allowed time in classrooms for discussion of issues raised by teachers and students. The class would form a Community Circle—kids and teachers could speak or pass. The teacher could halt regular class immediately if concerned about something. It soon became more regulated with limited time and topics. Now there is no open discussion time because everything is Ipad. They send out a survey, and you can type or check. The district tabulates and reports back to teachers. They have done this because of poor school test scores. They are focusing on standardized test scores. Bullying etc. continue. Social and emotional learning was designed to give insight into students. Students who never talked would get special attention. Math problems now incorporate social relationships in the books. How do you figure out equality? Wonderful authors wrote these creative books, but schools are going back to the Spanish Inquisition.
    S.: Technology doesn’t allow us to learn in any context anymore. What does AI mean? The idea that a machine can actually create thought. 21st Century is AI and IT. I actually know people who want an implanted computer, so you don’t need a keyboard but can think to communicate! These people are not against math; they are against thinking, especially critical thinking.
    E.: We are isolated, divided, by design. It’s been generations in coming: more and more alienation instead of seeing what is possible. Math was taught devoid of meaning for generations! But if something is meaningful we remember and care about and take something learned in class to extend outward! The creative minds could then write with relevance. Most of the major textbooks companies are in Texas. Now they can use this retrogression to make millions on new textbooks!

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