The story at a glance
- More than 1,600 individual book titles have been banned from classrooms or libraries in the past year, according to PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for free speech.
- While book bans are nothing new in the United States, some authors are concerned about the latest wave of censorship.
- Authors of banned books say efforts to challenge their books have never been so organized before.
Book bans are nothing new in the United States, but authors of some of the country’s most contested books are concerned about the new push to censor literature available to children in schools.
“I’m an old pro at this,” said Sherman Alexie, author of the young adult novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” The novel tells the story of Arnold Spirit Jr., an aspiring 14-year-old cartoonist who lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation while attending an all-white high school.
The book has been pushed back since its publication in 2007 and was challenged for its use of profanity, racist language – including the N-word – and references to sexual acts. Over the past 15 years, the novel has earned a spot on the American Library Association’s banned books list six times.
The novel is currently banned in 16 different school districts in a handful of states, including Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Kansas, according to PEN America’s Index of school book bans.
But this year’s efforts to ban Sherman’s work were different.
The way the novel was challenged in Nebraska earlier this year is an example of how the rejection of Alexie’s National Book Award-winning work has changed shape.
Several members of a group called the Protect Nebraska Children Coalition showed up at a Wauneta-Pallisade Public Schools Board meeting in January to demand that a number of books being removed from elementary and secondary school libraries in part because of its sexual content. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” happens to be one of those books on the list.
“The difference this time is that it has never been so organised. It was usually one or two parents in a school district,” Alexie said. “But this organizational effort has much more power and influence.”
The group’s mission is “to protect the health and innocence of children and the fundamental rights of parents to direct the nurturing, health care, and education of their children,” according to the Protect Nebraska Children Coalition. The Facebook page.
The group’s website link listed on the Facebook page directs users to a page outlining the dangers of comprehensive sex education (CSE) and offers a step-by-step guide to removing ESC from schools using a tactic called the “Tsunami strategy.”
According to the site, the “tsunami strategy” has four main parts. The first is to decide on a long-term political objective, the second is to determine the political objectives “of the opposition”, followed by a short-term decision on what to discuss at the next public meeting of the council school and the final step is to “write 30 statements all asking for the same action to be taken.”
Some groups lobbying for certain books to be removed or investigated for their content claim they are doing so for the safety of children. But some like Ellen Hopkins, who is the most frequently banned author in the United States, according to PEN America, don’t believe that concern is real.
“The current attacks are impersonal. No real concern for the welfare of the children they claim to care about,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins added that she thinks the ultimate goal of many of those pushing for these book bans is to “dismantle public education and alienate teachers from teaching.”
According to PEN America, 14 individual books by Hopkins have been challenged or outright banned from schools in the past year. The title with the most bans is the novel “Crank,” an addiction story inspired by Hopkins’ daughter who went from a straight college student to a crystal meth addiction during her teenage years.
Hopkins speculates that some parents who take issue with work like “Crank” believe that if kids read about drug use, it might make them want to try illicit substances. But to think that children only learn parts of life through books is naïve, she said.
“I don’t know how they think they wouldn’t know since most of them have internet access,” Hopkins said. “Books are a safer space…if a child has their nose in a book, they’re not actually courting someone or watching real people have sex.”
Hopkins told Changing America that the purpose of the book was to provide insight into some of the issues young people face every day and help them make better choices. Removing this information only increases the chances that children will make poor choices if placed in similar situations, Hopkins explained.
Hopkins said she even contacted several groups challenging her books and asked to have a chat and explain her motivation for writing about the topics she covers, but none accepted her.
“Hysterics don’t want that understanding or difficult conversations,” Hopkins said. “They want attention and get it through repeated talking points.”
When faced with an adult concerned about the content of her books, author Ashley Hope Perez will ask if her child has a cell phone or goes to the public library to use computers.
“Even if they don’t have a mobile phone, do they play in a football team? Do they take the bus? Are they already in the locker room?…there is still access to the content,” Perez said. “Why are we removing access to high-quality content to frame difficult conversations and only leaving kids with what they find on the internet?”
What is concerning about the new wave of book bans is using outrage over the books’ content as a kind of “proxy war” against non-dominant identities like being queer or non-white. , according to Perez.
Perez said she had checked the Facebook pages of groups that had challenged her young adult novel “Out of Darkness” and was shocked to see members telling others to “don’t talk about race” or talk about it. bring up homosexuality when trying to lobby for a ban. and instead “just talk about sex and swearing”.
For her, comments like that reveal that targeting specific themes in books is just a pretext for targeting specific books that promote the inclusion of people of different races and gender identities.
“These groups know they can’t send parents to school board meetings to say I don’t want gay kids in my child’s school. I don’t want them sitting next to a black kid,” Perez said. “They can’t say these things in 2022, but they can hold up a copy of ‘Out of Darkness’ with the main black and Mexican characters on the front and say it’s dirt.”