February 22, 2023

Anne Lutz Fernandez: Book Banning Is Getting Worse

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In this piece, writer and educator Anne Lutz Fernandez addresses some of the stories we’ve been telling ourselves about why the current wave of book bans isn’t that bad.

I’ve been very worried about the current wave of book bans. I haven’t been worried enough.

As state after state and town after town has made moves in recent years to over-regulate books, the issue has received a lot of media coverage. Alarmed, I’ve written about it (here and here). Still, until now, I haven’t allowed myself to become as alarmed as I should be. Frog-in-pot syndrome is one reason. Another may be that too much false comfort is swaddling the discussion. I want to strip away some of that here.

False Comfort: Book bans are a perennial school issue. Yes, the main arena for the current wave of bans, as in the past, is schools, where the books being taught and shelved are up for debate. The number of these is exploding, as PEN America has been documenting. School librarians are under pressure to remove books, even displays — a Pennsylvania librarian was told to take down an Elie Wiesel quote he’d posted about the danger of silence. But this wave isn’t limited to schools. The same extremists targeting schools are targeting public libraries. Last week, North Dakota’s legislature began considering a bill requiring librarians to purge books deemed offensive or face prison time. Across the country, public libraries are being threatened with defunding and closure if they don’t remove certain books.



False Comfort: Book bans can seem like a red state problem.

Not so. PEN America, which has been tracking book bans and the educational censorship laws that make bans easier, reveals a spreading mania.

Charts from PEN America showing large numbers of bans and bills across states

The broader, well-financed effort to intimidate educators and librarians is nationwide, as astroturf groups such as Moms For Liberty, with chapters in 37 states as of last summer, inspire and organize vocal minorities even in the bluest districts to stoke fear about books on social media and at school board meetings and to fuel school board runs on the fumes of these fears. And of course the right-wing media feeding panic about indoctrination knows no borders. The result: an increase in “soft censorship” and self-censorship, as Nadra Nittle explained in The 19th, that educators are susceptible to even if their state hasn’t passed draconian legislation.

There’s much more to chew on. Read the full post here. 

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