Book challenges, restrictions, and outright bans on materials in K-12 classrooms and school libraries are popping up more and more across the country these days.
Though such challenges are a perennial problem, school districts have seen an uptick in requests to ban books about LGBTQ characters, race, and racism. A PEN America report found that 2 million students in 86 school districts across the country have had their access to books restricted this past school year. And the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom is now getting reports of at least two—and sometimes three or four—book challenges a day, when in the past they would get that many cases per week, said the office’s director, Deborah Caldwell-Stone.
Some educators have been successful in overturning such efforts by supporting students eager to push back, a balancing act requiring them to observe constitutional boundaries about student protests and First Amendment rights. Yet many now teach in states where pushback to book challenges can be even trickier, thanks to new laws that more broadly restrict how topics such as race and gender are discussed in school.
Last fall, when professors at Flagler College, a private liberal arts school in St. Augustine, Florida, gathered for a faculty senate meeting, they learned that the college administration had worked with their local legislator to propose a new academic center on campus, the Flagler College Institute for Classical Education.
To administrators, it was an exciting prospect: the chance to receive $5 million from the state to shore up their “first year seminar,” a universal core curriculum for incoming freshmen intended to help students, particularly first-generation students, prepare for the rigors of college.
But some faculty members felt concerned, reading between the lines in a state that has become ground zero for the nation’s education debates — where Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump-style Republican with his eyes on the White House, has imposed gag orders and mandates on K-12 schools and described universities as “hotbeds of stale ideology” and “indoctrination factories.”
Two reports this week show the United States is facing an unprecedented wave of school book banning — spurring Congress to hold a hearing Thursday focused on the issue, which free-speech advocates warn will undermine democracy.
PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for freedom of expression, found there have been 1,586 book bans in schools over the past nine months.
The bans targeted 1,145 unique books by more than 800 authors, and a plurality of the books — 41 percent — featured prominent characters who are people of color.
Thirty-three percent of the banned books, meanwhile, included LGBTQ themes, protagonists or strong secondary characters, and 22 percent “directly address issues of race and racism.”
Paige worked in corporate America for several years before deciding at the beginning of 2020 to switch to a career she found more meaningful.
When the pandemic hit a short time later, she second-guessed her decision, but the crisis also made her feel “more compelled to rise to the occasion.”
She completed virtual training. Paige — who spoke on the condition that only her middle name be used — started her first job as a teacher at an under-resourced Dallas-area middle school in January 2021.
The district was using a hybrid classroom model, blending remote and in-person instruction. Paige had the advantage of a previous career that prepared her for the technological headache. She felt she was able to build constructive relationships with her students, especially the roughly 30% who came to school in person.
Though her subject, reading, is a perennial testing priority, she was liberated from test pressure since states were given the option to waive the usual battery of exams that year. In hindsight, her first few months of teaching were “breezy and manageable” in comparison to what came after.
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