"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Over 1,000 Books Banned During the Past Nine Months

From PEN America

Book bans in public schools have recurred throughout American history, and have long been an issue of concern to PEN America, as a literary and free expression advocacy organization. Over the past nine months, the scope of such censorship has expanded rapidly. In response, PEN America has collated an Index of School Book Bans, offering a snapshot of the trend. The Index documents decisions to ban books in school libraries and classrooms in the United States from July 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022.

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It is not just the number of books removed that is disturbing, but the processes–or lack thereof–through which such removals are being carried out. Objections and challenges to books available in school are nothing new, and parents and citizens are within their rights to voice concerns about the appropriateness and suitability of particular books. In order to protect the First Amendment rights of students in public schools, though, procedural safeguards have been designed to help ensure that districts follow transparent, unbiased, established procedures, particularly when it comes to the review of library holdings. Of 1,586 bans listed in the Index, PEN America found that the vast majority (98%) have involved various departures from best practice guidelines outlined by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the American Library Association (ALA). Such guidelines have been designed to ensure rigorous standards and to avoid ad hoc, highly irregular acts that could run afoul of relevant legal doctrine. These guidelines include the filing of written, formal challenges by parents or local residents; the formation of review committees, generally comprised of librarians, teachers, administrators, and community members; and that books are to remain in circulation during the reconsideration process until a final decision is made. Challenges to library books and curricular and classroom materials are meant to happen first at the school-level, and then, if a decision is appealed, at the district-level. While the Supreme Court has recognized the “broad discretion” granted to local school boards in the “management of school affairs,” that discretion does not negate the responsibility of engaging in proper, considered processes concerning selections or removals. Rather, per Pico, school boards must exercise their discretion with respect to matters of education “​​in a manner that comports with the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment.” News reports from school districts around the country indicate that this directive is being eschewed, as the responsibility of local school boards to employ appropriate  safeguards and best practices in these decisions is being widely abrogated.

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