Enrichment Education

Movement to ban — or even burn — school library books gains momentum

Story at a glance

  • Efforts to ban books have ramped up this year, with mostly conservative-led battles seeking to remove titles that teach children about race, gender and sexuality.
  • Two school board members in Virginia last week said they did not just want to remove books they deemed inappropriate, but burn them.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbot earlier this month said in a letter to the Texas Association of School Boards that public schools shouldn’t provide “pornographic or obscene material” to students.

Book banning efforts in schools have accelerated this year, with parents and school officials across the country attempting to remove titles they consider inappropriate from library shelves.

Arguments about what children should be allowed to read even wormed its way into Virginia’s contentious governor’s race this year, with Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) criticizing his opponent, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), for vetoing a bill during his tenure that would have allowed parents to opt their children out of reading assignments they found objectionable.

While the current war on books is mostly being waged by conservatives, there is a demonstrated history of efforts to ban books in schools, including by liberals. Those efforts have involved classics like “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “Of Mice and Men” for their use of racist language. 

More recently, in addition to race, book banning efforts have centered around titles tackling gender and sexuality.

Parents in Utah earlier this month launched a campaign to ban several books from library shelves, mostly having to do with race or sexual and gender identity. In Kansas, a school board last week announced it planned to remove 29 books from circulation, among them Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Fences,” and Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”


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Two school board members in Virginia last week said they didn’t want to just remove certain books from school libraries, but burn them.

“I think we should throw those books in a fire,” one conservative representative said, according to the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. He reportedly added that allowing the book “33 Snowfish,” about homeless teens attempting to escape sexual abuse, prostitution and drug addiction, to remain on shelves for one more night meant public schools “would rather have our kids reading gay pornography than about Christ.”

Another said he wanted to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”

At the same meeting, school board members vote unanimously to review certain books in the district’s libraries for sexually explicit content.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to the executive director of the state’s Association of School Boards last week that parents have the right to “shield their children from obscene content in schools” and public schools shouldn’t provide “pornographic or obscene material” to students. 

The letter did not provide any specific examples of such content.

Supporters of book banning are generally also advocates of a larger agenda to control what public school educators teach students. That largely pertains to lessons about race.

“What has taken us aback this year is the intensity with which school libraries are under attack,” Nora Pelizzari, a spokeswoman at the National Coalition Against Censorship, told The Washington Post this week.

“Particularly when taken in concert with the legislative attempts to control school curricula, this feels like a more overarching attempt to purge schools of materials that people disagree with,” she added. “It feels different than what we’ve seen in recent years.”


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