May 16, 2022

New Report From PEN America: “Banned in the USA”; 1,586 School Book Bans and Restrictions in 86 School Districts Across 26 States

From PEN America:

The literary and free expression organization PEN America today released a new Index of School Book Bans and accompanying report, Banned in the USA, that documents the alarming spike in censorship of books in school districts across the country over the past nine months, with individual books and even whole categories of books—many related to race, racism, sexual orientation and gender identity— disappearing from school library shelves and barred from classrooms and curricula. The organization said the widespread censorship was unparalleled in its intensity and frequency and represents a serious threat to free expression and students’ First Amendment rights.  This report constitutes the first detailed, book by book, district by district account of what books are being banned, where in the country, and through what procedures.

Here are the topline findings:

  • The Index lists 1,586 book bans that have occurred in 86 school districts in 26 states between July 1, 2021 and March 31 of this year. These districts represent 2,899 schools with a combined enrollment of over 2 million students.
  • These bans have targeted 1,145 unique book titles by 874 different authors, 198 illustrators, and 9 translators, impacting the literary, scholarly, and creative work of 1,081 people altogether.
  • Texas led the country with the most bans at 713; followed by Pennsylvania (456); Florida (204); Oklahoma (43); Kansas (30); and Tennessee (16).
  • Processes aimed to uphold the First Amendment in the context of school book challenges are not being followed. Of bans in the Index, 98% involve departures from best practice guidelines for how school authorities may remove books; most bans and restrictions have occurred without proper written forms, review committees, or transparency. While school boards and administrators do have some discretion over library and instructional materials, there are safeguards and best practices meant to protect students’ First Amendment rights that are being widely abrogated.
  • Among titles in the index:
    • 467 titles (41%) included protagonists or prominent secondary characters who were people of color;
    • 247 titles (22%) directly address issues of race and racism
    • 379 titles (33%) explicitly address LGBTQ+ themes, or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ+
    • 184 titles (16%) are history books or biographies. 107 have explicit or prominent themes related to rights and activism (9%).
    • 42 children’s books were censored, including biographies of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges, Duke Ellington, Katherine Johnson, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cesar Chavez, Sonia Sotomayor, Nelson Mandela, and Malala Yousafzai.
    • The majority of the books targeted have been works of fiction, however 28% are non-fiction and include history books, analytical and/or personal essays, and children’s reference and informational works.

The top 3 banned titles all are centered on LGBTQ+ individuals or touch on the topic of same-sex relationships: Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe banned in 30 districts, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, banned in 21 districts, and Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, banned in 16 districts. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, a love story between a Black teenage boy and a Mexican-American girl set in 1930s Texas, was also banned in 16 districts. The Bluest Eye by the late Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison is the fifth most banned book, in 12 districts.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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