The theme of Banned Books Week 2022 (September 18-24, 2022), “Read Dangerously,” is a sentiment that could not be more relevant. For centuries, certain groups have banned books they find offensive. But between 2020 and 2022, the number of books under scrutiny rose at an alarming rate. In the U.S., the current climate of censorship is unprecedented as legislative bodies in numerous states determine what children and young adults should be allowed to read.
There are four main points and statistics according to USA TODAY:
- Book Bans and Challenges DOUBLED from 2020 to 2021 (these statistics compiled by the American Library Association).
- LGBTQ+ themed books account for one-third of all attempted bans.
- Many conservative politicians are at the forefront of this movement.
- Libraries are fighting back by expanding access to such books. An example was the launch of The Banned Bookstore in summer 2022. In an article in the InfoDocket section of the Library Journal, Gary Price writes, “EveryLibrary, the 501c4 political action committee dedicated to building voter support for libraries, has announced the launch of … bannedbooksstore.co. The Banned Book Store is the most comprehensive store of currently banned and challenged books in the United States.”
Overlapping with the concerns of the American Library Association, the advocacy group, PEN America, has authored a chilling report on the escalation of censorship in education over the past year. I encourage you to read the report, “Censorship in the Classroom.” Here are some of the issues:
- Proposed regulations and legislation to ban books has increased by 250 percent school over the last year. This means that content and viewpoint based ‘gag-orders’ silence both teachers and students, block literature and educational materials, all the while suppressing dialogue and debate that makes for a strong democracy.
- In 2022 such legislative bills have grown even more punitive. New rules include punishment for violations by teachers such as termination of employment and the filing of criminal charges.
- If the target in 2021 was suppressing the teaching on racial inequities and history in America, in 2022 LGBTQ+ issues became the hot button topics. Look no further than Florida’s H 1557 (known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill) along with 22 others.
- Higher education is also in the sights of lawmakers. More plans in legislatures for 2023 will continue the assault.
Proponents of such laws often claim they are necessary to stop the “indoctrination” of students. According to the Oxford Dictionary, “indoctrinate” means to “force somebody to accept a particular belief and not allow them to accept any others.” And yet it is perfectly appropriate to censor what people read and force-feed them propaganda, ideas, or beliefs that may be false or exaggerated. Propaganda, which is nothing more than misinformation, is often entrenched in authoritarian governments.
But the banning of books is not only occurring in education and libraries. According to a recent article in Salon, private bookstores like Barnes and Noble have also come under attack.
As we observe Banned Books Weeks 2022, I am reminded that knowledge is power, and always has been. The suppression of ideas, beliefs and the freedom of open inquiry threaten the core of our democratic society. To increase the banning of books and censorship leads down a treacherous path toward ignorance and the squelching of our first amendment rights.
An author and former educator, I will continue to read dangerously and expand the minds of others.
Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images