Friday, September 22, 2023

Happy Friday

Florida leads in book-banning.  Via the Miami Herald comes this report from the PEN Foundation.

The freedom to read is under assault in the United States—particularly in public schools—curtailing students’ freedom to explore words, ideas, and books. In the 2022–23 school year, from July 1, 2022, to June 31, 2023, PEN America recorded 3,362 instances of book bans in US public school classrooms and libraries. These bans removed student access to 1,557 unique book titles, the works of over 1,480 authors, illustrators, and translators. Authors whose books are targeted are most frequently female, people of color, and/or LGBTQ+ individuals. Amid a growing climate of censorship, school book bans continue to spread through coordinated campaigns by a vocal minority of groups and individual actors and, increasingly, as a result of pressure from state legislation.

  • Book bans in public K–12 schools continue to intensify. In the 2022–23 school year, PEN America recorded 3,362 instances of books banned, an increase of 33 percent from the 2021–22 school year.
  • Over 40 percent of all book bans occurred in school districts in Florida. Across 33 school districts, PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida, followed by 625 bans in Texas, 333 bans in Missouri, 281 bans in Utah, and 186 bans in Pennsylvania.
  • Hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric about “porn in schools” and “sexually explicit,” “harmful,” and “age inappropriate” materials led to the removal of thousands of books covering a range of topics and themes for young audiences. Overwhelmingly, book bans target books on race or racism or featuring characters of color, as well as books with LGBTQ+ characters. And this year, banned books also include books on physical abuse, health and well-being, and themes of grief and death. Notably, most instances of book bans affect young adult books, middle grade books, chapter books, or picture books—books specifically written and selected for younger audiences.
  • Punitive state laws, coupled with pressure from vocal citizens and local and national groups, have created difficult dilemmas for school districts, forcing them to either restrict access to books or risk penalties for educators and librarians. Eighty-seven percent of all book bans were recorded in school districts with a nearby chapter or local affiliate of a national advocacy group known to advocate for book censorship. Sixty-three percent of all book bans occurred in eight states with legislation that has either directly facilitated book bans or created the conditions for local groups to pressure and intimidate educators and librarians into removing books.

Over the past two and a half years, PEN America has been at the forefront of tracking an evolving movement to exert ideological control over public education across the United States. This campaign—which PEN America has dubbed the “Ed Scare”—is penetrating public libraries, higher education institutions, and public schools, using state legislation and intimidation tactics to suppress teaching and learning about certain stories, identities, and histories.

Efforts to suppress free expression are particularly pervasive in public schools, where coordinated campaigns to restrict the freedom to read, learn, and think are affecting students nationwide. PEN America has tracked the spread of explicit prohibitions to restrict teaching about topics such as race, gender, American history, and LGBTQ+ identities in K–12 and higher education—which we have dubbed “educational gag orders”—as well as legislative mandates that require intrusive forms of inspection or monitoring of teachers and librarians, which we have dubbed “educational intimidation bills.” These legislative efforts work in tandem with coordinated campaigns locally, enabling local groups and individuals to challenge curricula, movies, songs, art, plays, and thousands and thousands of books.

Public schools have long been deemed essential to American democracy. Identified by John Adams as “necessary for the preservation of rights and liberties,” public schools facilitate information sharing, knowledge building, and the ongoing unification that undergirds a pluralistic society. Public schools do this, in part, through robust library programs. School libraries play a critical role in making information and knowledge accessible to students while also fostering lifelong learning, student achievement, and literacy. Over the past two years, coordinated and ideologically driven threats, challenges, and legislation directed at public school classrooms and libraries have spurred a wave of book bans unlike any in recent memory, diminishing students’ access to books and directly impacting their constitutional rights.

Note item 2: “Over 40 percent of all book bans occurred in school districts in Florida. Across 33 school districts, PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida…”  Since Florida establishes school districts by county, not by city or township, that means that nearly half of the 67 counties in the state have bans in place.  This is no doubt the work of ignorant tight-asses, led by the head Fred of that particular lumber shed, Gov. Rod DeSantis and his fascist “anti-woke” campaign followed by the ironically-named “Moms for Liberty,” which has the same relationship to liberty as the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea.

Lawsuits against DeSantis’s authoritarian edicts are working their way through the courts and will be decided long after his moribund presidential campaign goes Hindenburg.  And that’s an appropriate analogy because he’s a flaming Nazi gasbag.