Over the past year, there has been an intense national debate about teaching systemic racism in public schools. As conservative legislators continue to push bans to teach critical race theory in classrooms, it is important to note recent pressures to ban specific books and educational materials that deal with racism, diversity, and LGBTQ+ from classrooms and libraries.
This is a brief overview of the most challenged books of 2020, Banned Books Week, an example of a yearlong book ban in a Pennsylvania school district that was recently overturned by their school board, and the interconnectivity between the fight against teaching Critical Race Theory and book banning.
- In April 2021, the American Library Association (ALA) published their annual list of the top 10 most challenged books for the previous year. In conjunction with the top 10 most challenged books list, a coalition of organizations, including the ALA, sponsors a yearly Banned Books Week that provides information about banned and challenged books and celebrates free expression.
- A recent National Public Radio report highlighting this year’s Banned Books Week explained that the majority of the most challenged and banned books of 2020 dealt with racism, Black History, and diversity. Almost the entirety of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books for 2019 and 2018 dealt with topics related to LGBTQ+ issues.
- In this year’s State of America’s Libraries Report, ALA provided additional information about the most challenged books of 2020. Of the challenges they tracked in 2020, ALA found that 50% were initiated by parents. Patrons initiated 20% of the challenges, boards/administrations initiated 11%, political/religious groups initiated 9%, librarians/teachers initiated 5%, elected officials initiated 4%, and students initiated 1% of the challenges. ALA also reported that out of 156 challenges, 43% were to libraries, 38% to schools, 15% to school libraries, 2% to academia, and 2% were to other places.
- A yearlong book ban at Central York School District in Pennsylvania has recently concluded after the school board voted to reverse their yearlong ban on several anti-racism books and educational resources by or about people of color. The school district placed the list of books and materials on a freeze in September 2020 after some parents expressed concern about the materials. Nearly a year later, after about 200 students and parents protested the ban, the school board voted to reinstate access to the list of resources, according to the Washington Post.
- The fight against teaching CRT in classrooms and the practice of book banning are closely linked. In states where Republican governors have banned teaching CRT in classrooms, school districts are banning books about race and diversity. For example, in Tennessee, where teaching CRT is banned, a group of moms called “Moms for Liberty” is utilizing the CRT ban in their efforts to get a book written from the perspective of Mexican Americans removed, the New York Times has reported.