Surge in Book Bans Across U.S. Schools Sparks Battle Over Intellectual Freedom

Alarming surge in book bans across US schools, with conservative groups driving the censorship efforts, raising concerns about intellectual freedom and access to diverse literature.

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Olalekan Adigun
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Surge in Book Bans Across U.S. Schools Sparks Battle Over Intellectual Freedom

Surge in Book Bans Across U.S. Schools Sparks Battle Over Intellectual Freedom

A new report by PEN America has revealed an extraordinary surge in book bans across public schools in the United States. The free expression group recorded 4,349 instances of book bans across 23 states and 52 public school districts in the latter half of 2023, surpassing the total number of bans in the entire 2022-2023 school year. The report found that a small but vocal group of individuals, often just 11 people, were responsible for filing 60% of book challenges.

The most targeted books include topics related to sex, sexual violence, abortion, LGBTQ+ identities, and race. Florida topped the list with 3,135 bans, followed by Wisconsin, Iowa, and Texas. The rise in book bans has been driven by conservative groups and new laws and regulations that limit what kinds of books children can access. While book bans are not new in the U.S., the current wave stands out in its scope, with censorship efforts becoming increasingly organized and politicized.

Free expression advocates argue that books are often banned based on circulated lists rather than concerns from individual parents. PEN America defines a book ban as any action taken against a book based on its content that leads to its removal or restricted access. However, the conservative American Enterprise Institute has disputed PEN America's findings, claiming that almost three-quarters of the books listed as banned were still available in school libraries in the same districts.

Why this matters: The surge in book bans across U.S. schools raises concerns about intellectual freedom and access to diverse literature for students. The battle over book censorship has broader implications for education and free expression in the country.

In response to the growing number of school book challenges , some states have taken action to limit the scope of bans. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed a bill that restricts residents who do not have students in school districts to only being able to challenge one book title in libraries and classrooms per month. However, the bill does not limit the number of challenges a parent with a child enrolled in a Florida school district can file or include a penalty if the law is violated.

Key Takeaways

  • Book bans in US public schools surged in 2023, with 4,349 instances.
  • Florida had the most book bans (3,135), followed by Wisconsin, Iowa, and Texas.
  • Bans targeted books on sex, LGBTQ+, race; driven by conservative groups and new laws.
  • A small group of 11 people filed 60% of book challenges, per PEN America report.
  • Some states limit book challenges, but laws lack penalties for violations.