As book bans are becoming more prevalent in school districts across the US, there’s now hard data to show the extent of those bans courtesy of an updated report from PEN America.
The number of book bans grew by 28 per cent in the first half of the 2022-2023 school year compared to the previous six months, according to Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools.
From July to December 2022, there were 1,477 individual book bans affecting 874 unique titles alone -- a sign of harmful censorship in literature.
Since PEN America, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to fighting for free speech, began tracking public school book bans in July 2021, the organisation has counted more than 4,000 instances of banned books.
The organisation attributes many of these book bans to a campaign by politicians and “few parents or community members” who want to instigate anxiety or anger with the underlying goal of suppressing access to literature and information.
Of the 1,477 books banned in public schools this year, 30 per cent contain themes about race, racism, or include a character of colour and 26 per cent have LGBTQ+ characters or themes.
PEN America found that, unlike past eras, nearly one-third of book bans were a direct result of newly enacted state laws in the likes of Florida, Utah, and Missouri.
“The heavy-handed tactics of state legislators are mandating book bans, plain and simple,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, said in a press release earlier this month.
This past month, Republican lawmakers in Missouri threatened to defund public libraries in retaliation for the ACLU filing a lawsuit against a recent ban on educators “providing sexually explicit material.”
Similarly, Florida recently began removing “pornographic, violent or inappropriate” books from classrooms.
But PEN America notes that books are more frequently being labelled as “pornographic” or “indecent” on the basis that they contain sexual content.
Some of these books include The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and Looking for Alaska by John Green.
Additionally, vague language in legislation, like in Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act which bars educators from instructing on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, can influence books being banned.
Utah’s Sensitive Material in Schools Act also uses vague language to prohibit “certain sensitive instructional material.”
The ban on these books can also limit personal health resources to students.
Books that address LGBTQ+ themes, issues, and personal experiences like Flamer by Mike Curato and Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe were among the top banned books.
“Book bans impede the freedom to read, limiting students’ access to a diversity of views and stories,” PEN America says.
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