From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters
“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