“Undermining Democracy: Book Bans in U.S. Public Schools Surge by 33% in One Year”

In a recent report from Pen America, it was revealed that there were 3,362 occurrences of book censorship in educational settings, with over 40% of these incidents taking place in the state of Florida.

The individuals whose books were singled out for censorship were primarily women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. This information is illustrated by a photo showing a banned books display at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Pittsford, New York State, taken by Ted Shaffrey/AP.

A recent study conducted by Pen America, a nonprofit advocating for literary freedom, has revealed a 33% increase in book bans within U.S. public schools during the previous academic year. The research covered the period from July 2022 to June 2023 and identified 3,362 instances of book censorship across 1,557 different titles in public school classrooms and libraries.

The report titled “Banned in the USA: The Growing Pressure for Censorship” highlighted that over 40% of these cases were concentrated in Florida, making it the state with the highest number of bans, surpassing Texas. Additionally, states such as Missouri, Utah, and Pennsylvania also reported substantial levels of book banning incidents.

The report further emphasized that the authors targeted by these bans were predominantly women, people of color, and/or LGBTQ+ individuals. It revealed that 30% of the banned books involved characters or themes related to race and racism, 30% featured LGBTQ+ characters or themes, and 6% included transgender characters.

Author John Green expressed his dismay over the significant increase in book bans and limitations, stating, “It’s disheartening to witness such a sharp uptick in the prohibition and restriction of books.” Green’s own book, “Looking for Alaska,” ranked as the third most frequently banned title in U.S. schools. He went on to assert, “We should have confidence in our educators and librarians to fulfill their roles. If one’s worldview can be shaken by a book, I would argue that the issue lies not with the book itself.”

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Pen America’s study also revealed that over 75% of the banned books belong to genres specifically intended for young readers, encompassing young adult, middle grade, picture books, and chapter books. Kasey Meehan, the report’s primary author, pointed out, “Exaggerated and deceptive language continues to fuel apprehension regarding the kinds of books found in schools. Surprisingly, 75% of all banned books are expressly crafted and chosen for young audiences.”

This study from Pen America follows closely on the heels of a report by the American Library Association, which disclosed that book bans in educational institutions, public libraries, and academic libraries had reached an all-time high in the initial eight months of 2023.

Among the books banned in more than 20 school districts are “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J Maas, “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky.

The report highlighted that the combined influence of advocacy groups and recent state legislation is having a profound, chilling effect on the availability of books in schools.

Suzanne Nossel, the CEO of Pen America, expressed concern, stating, “Those who are determined to stifle narratives and ideas are transforming our educational institutions into arenas of conflict. This exacerbates the educational setbacks experienced post-pandemic, forces educators to leave their profession, and denies the pleasure of reading to our children.” Nossel added, “By withholding the freedom to read from an emerging generation, these prohibitions are eroding the very foundations of our democracy.”

The study also noted an increase in students’ efforts to resist book bans. This resistance takes the form of protests, voicing their concerns at school board meetings, and establishing organizations committed to safeguarding access to literature within educational settings.

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