Organized Groups Fuel Rapid Rise in U.S. Book-Banning

Book banning accelerated across the nation in the school year from 2021 to 2022, mostly because of coordinated efforts made by organized groups that called on public schools to remove more than 1,600 titles. 

The writers’ group PEN America published a new report today showing how the banning of books has accelerated massively. 

There were 2,532 instances of individual book bans affecting 1,648 titles at 5,000 schools with 4 million students, according to the newly published research. 

The report found 1,000 more book bans than were documented in the group’s initial report released in April.

The rapid rise in book banning has come as a growing number of groups have targeted books dealing with race or LGBTQ issues, the report authors said. 

The report identified at least 50 groups in particular who are active in pushing for book bans, the vast majority of which have formed since 2021.

“This rapidly accelerating movement has resulted in more and more students losing access to literature that equips them to meet the challenges and complexities of democratic citizenship,” said Jonathan Friedman, lead author of the report.

While proponents of book bans emphasize the importance of parental control, PEN America said the movement has gone beyond the normal give-and-take between parents and educators and morphed into a sophisticated and well-resourced campaign.

One group for instance mobilized against a school district that taught about transgender identities, an issue that has become a big rallying cry for the far right and for the Republican Party. More than 40% of the banned titles address lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer themes or have prominent queer characters.

The other main issue targeted by book bans was race. Race also drew the attention of censors, with 40% of the banned titles featuring prominent characters of color. 

There was a massive emphasis by these groups claiming the dangers of critical race theory, an esoteric field of study in law school or graduate school. The actions serve to suppress works about the history of slavery, desegregation, and the civil rights movement.

Other banned books touched on sexual content, rights, and activism, or stories with religious minorities.

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