States Curtailing Students' Access to Books, IdeasBreaking News
tags: censorship, academic freedom, teaching history, LGBTQ history, Banned Books
In one Virginia school district this fall, parents will receive an email notification every time their child checks out a book. In a Florida school system, teachers are purging their classrooms of texts that mention racism, sexism, gender identity or oppression. And a Pennsylvania school district is convening a panel of adults to sign off on every title that school librarians propose buying.
The start of the 2022-2023 school year will usher in a new era of education in some parts of America — one in which school librarians have less freedom to choose books and schoolchildren less ability to read books they find intriguing, experts say.
In the past two years, six states have passed laws that mandate parental involvement in reviewing books, making it easier for parents to remove books or restrict the texts available at school, according to a tally kept by nonprofit EveryLibrary. Five states are considering similar legislation. Typical of these is an Arizona bill, signed by Gov. Doug Ducey (R) in April, that requires districts to send parents who ask lists of the books their children check out, as well as to publish the titles of all library materials bought after Jan. 1. Policies are proliferating at the district level, too: One Nebraska system will require that parents sign permission slips for library books. A Texas system will divide its library into “juvenile,” “young adult” and “adult” sections, with parents choosing the “level” their child can access.
“This is a state-sponsored purging of ideas and identities that has no precedent in the United States of America,” said John Chrastka, EveryLibrary’s executive director. “We’re witnessing the silencing of stories and the suppressing of information [that will make] the next generation less able to function in society.”
No one is tracking how many districts have adopted such rules. But Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said she has never seen such a strong, successful movement to limit the ability to read. She warned of lasting consequences for the current generation of students — especially given that school libraries are often the “only source of vetted, reliable information” on topics such as health care.
“This shows an inability to respect the rights of individual students, particularly older students,” she said. “It’s treating them like 5-year-olds, which is not the most helpful or useful thing we could be doing, and is in fact teaching lessons in censorship.”