The number of banned books in American school districts is increasing, a new report from PEN America has found. Between July 2021 and June 2022, the books were banned 2,532 times from US public schools, according to the nonprofit, which works to defend free speech.
PEN American says that 1,648 unique book titles were banned in that period. Among July 2021 and March 2022, PEN tracked 1,586 book bans. Since that report was released in April, a further 275 book bans have been recorded between April and June 2022.
Many books (41%) that were banned included LGBTQ themes, prominent leads, or supporting characters. A whopping 40% who were banned included people of color. Books with themes of race and racism (21%) and books with themes of rights and activism (10%) were also among those banned. About 22% of banned books had sexual content. Biographies, autobiographies and stories about religious minorities are also on the list of banned books.
There are various reasons why books may be banned from schools and libraries. Last year, dozens of Republican state legislatorsconsidered offensive in schools.
PEN America estimates that at least 40% of book bans are related to legislation “or political pressure by state officials or elected legislators to restrict the teaching or presence of certain books or concepts.”
PEN America has also identified at least 50 groups, many of which have local or regional chapters, that they say played a role in at least 50% of the book bans enacted across the country during the 2021-2022 school year.
Under legislation that addresses content with themes of race and sexuality, andschools may feel pressure to remove books from their classrooms and libraries.
The American Library Association (ALA) maintains a registry of frequently banned books and some titles are extremely popular, such as the “Harry Potter” series, which was on the list of the 10 most frequently banned books in 2019. This series was banned for “referring to magic and witchcraft, for containing actual curses and spells, and for characters using ‘nefarious means’ to achieve goals,” according to the ALA.
However, most of the books are banned because they include themes of race or sexuality.
Some states ban books that include themes of race by using the term “critical race theory” in their legislation. Critical race theory is most often taught at the university or law school levels andthey have persisted in the history of the United States and are reinforced in the laws and institutions of the United States.
as long as there istaught in K-12 schools, it is often used as an umbrella term in state legislation, including Texas, as a way to limit discussions of race in the classroom.
Books that include themes of sexuality, such as “Gender Queer,” are often considered “obscene” and “pornographic” by people who want to ban them, PEN America said in its report.
“Gender Queer”, the most frequently banned book according to PEN America, is written by Maia Kobabe and is described by its publisher as a “helpful and moving guide to gender identity”.
Deborah Stone, director of the ALA’s office of intellectual freedom, told CBS News last year that books “that reflect the lives of LGBTQIA individuals and families” provide important representation.
“You may not be the audience, your child may not be the audience, but more often than not, there is an audience for books and often they are desperately needed,” he said.
PEN America said there is evidence the effort to ban the books continues into the 2022-2023 school year: At least 139 additional bans have gone into effect since July 2022.
“This movement to ban books is deeply undemocratic, often seeking to impose restrictions on all students and families based on the preferences of those calling for the bans, and despite polls consistently showing thatPEN America said, citing a CBS News poll that found more than 8 in 10 Americans don’t think books should be banned from schools that discuss race and criticize U.S. history. Ideas they don’t agree with. agreement.