Public School Districts Face Threats and Political Pressure to Ban Books
2022-2023 school year escalates educational book censorship centered on race, history, sexual orientation and gender.
With the start of the academic year, some schools across the country will see revised curricula negating decades of work giving voice and clarity to the lasting impact of slavery on present race relations in the United States.
Overwhelmingly, books that are being banned about marginalized individuals and communities of color. Between July 2021 and June 2022, 40% of the banned titles had protagonists or secondary characters of color, and 21% had titles that related to race or racism supercharging book suppression.
The push to rewrite American history, slavery and race relations by banning books that deliver educational truths on race in America is an open assault from extreme white identity and misinformed “whiteness”.
In tandem, school libraries will have vacated books deemed too “woke” on issues of race or too inclusive of non-traditional gender and sexual identities. But to be clear, book banning is not a new phenomenon in the United States. Books have been banned here since 1637 when a ban on The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption by William Pynchon was fueled by religious leaders who disagreed with its theological stance. Though reasons differ, the actual ebb and flow of book bans have paralleled the history of our nation.
Still, bans as of recent have become more common than ever. According to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, the number of challenges to unique titles has increased by over 40% since 2022 - a Book Ban Record.
According to PEN America, a free speech advocacy organization, the main proponents behind these book bans in schools across the country are right-wing activist groups like “Moms for Liberty.” The Southern Poverty Law Center lists “Moms for Liberty” as an extremist group that has been at the forefront of combating inclusive curriculum and materials in classrooms and libraries.
During the mid-term elections, they succeeded in changing 17 school boards to parental rights-supportive majorities and began to make extensive changes in curriculum and books in the school libraries, removing books and lessons that were “anti-American, and LGBTQ inclusion.”
These efforts by “Moms for Liberty” and other right-wing activist groups seek to advance a White Christian Nationalist ideology, a belief that public institutions and policies should reflect and assert a specific version of Christianity informed primarily by the perspective of a white dominant culture.
The irony of White Christian Nationalism’s impact on book bans and educational curriculum is that central to our Christian identity is the discipline of confession, to which a significant number of these banned books provide much-needed historical context and critique in support of meaningful and substantive confession.
Banning these books supports a misguided revisionism that erases important aspects of our past, hindering us from knowing historical truths that helps move us towards a more just and equitable society. The other notable dimension of book bans is the exclusionary nature which runs contrary to the message of inclusion we profess in our faith. Taking away access and representation sends a message of exclusion.
Taking away books by and about LGBTQ+ and people of color sends the message that their existence and experience as fellow children of God is somehow less valid or altogether invalid.
As United Methodists, we believe that “academic freedom is protected for all members of the academic community and a learning environment is fostered that allows for a free exchange of ideas,” (Social Principles ¶164.E). Educational freedom creates an environment for students to engage and grapple with concepts and truths that might make them feel uncomfortable.
Growth happens when we are stretched. We want them to read and learn about experiences that are not familiar because it teaches the beauty of diversity and the value of inclusion. We want students to see themselves in curricula being taught in classrooms and in books they are reading.
Students of now are our future. Book bans and exclusionary curricula create intellectual stagnation, fosters ignorance, and perpetuates narrow-mindedness. And it does not make for a just or equitable society. It is not of God.
As school bells ring across our nation, there are ways we as United Methodists can protect educational freedoms and speak against the banning of books.
You Can Take Action:
Contact your state and local representatives to support educational freedom.
Get involved in your local school board. Attend meetings.
Join United Against Book Bans. Unite Against Book Bans - Unite Against Book Bans
Participate in Banned Books Week! (October 1-7, 2023) Banned Books Week (October 1 - 7, 2023) | Advocacy, Legislation & Issues ala.org
Report banned books. According to the American Library Association, 82-97% of challenges remain unreported. If you find out that your school, library, or institution is attempting to ban a book report it: Challenge Reporting | Tools, Publications & Resources (ala.org)
Do you have a library in your church? Consider having banned books in your library.
Read banned books. Here are a few children’s books mentioned in the Church & Society’s Sacred Worth Books Database:
- Celano, Marianne. “Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Justice.”
- Lukoff, Kyle. “When Aidan Became a Brother.”
- Richardson, Justin. “And Tango Makes Three.”
- Noble Maillard, Kevin. “Fry Bread.”
- Nyong’o, Lupita. “Sulwe.”
- Support teachers and librarians!
Aimee Hong is the senior executive director of Education and Engagement at the General Board of Church and Society, where she designs and facilitates educational seminars, webinars and curriculum to deepen the connection between faith and justice.