What Do You Think About Efforts to Ban Books From School Libraries?

What Do You Think About Efforts to Ban Books From School Libraries?

Please note: Our Student Opinion questions specifically invite the voices of young people. We ask that adults respect the intent of this forum and refrain from posting here.

Across the United States, parents, activists and lawmakers are arguing that some books, especially those about sexual and racial identity, do not belong in school libraries.

Have you witnessed these book challenges in your school? What do you think about them?

In “Book Ban Efforts Spread Across the U.S.,” Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter write about the phenomenon:

In Wyoming, a county prosecutor’s office considered charges against library employees for stocking books like “Sex Is a Funny Word” and “This Book Is Gay.”

In Oklahoma, a bill was introduced in the State Senate that would prohibit public school libraries from keeping books on hand that focus on sexual activity, sexual identity or gender identity.

In Tennessee, the McMinn County Board of Education voted to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus” from an eighth-grade module on the Holocaust because of nudity and curse words.

Parents, activists, school board officials and lawmakers around the country are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades. The American Library Association said in a preliminary report that it received an “unprecedented” 330 reports of book challenges, each of which can include multiple books, last fall.

“It’s a pretty startling phenomenon here in the United States to see book bans back in style, to see efforts to press criminal charges against school librarians,” said Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of the free-speech organization PEN America, even if efforts to press charges have so far failed.

Such challenges have long been a staple of school board meetings, but it isn’t just their frequency that has changed, according to educators, librarians and free-speech advocates — it is also the tactics behind them and the venues where they play out. Conservative groups in particular, fueled by social media, are now pushing the challenges into statehouses, law enforcement and political races.

“The politicalization of the topic is what’s different than what I’ve seen in the past,” said Britten Follett, the chief executive of content at Follett School Solutions, one of the country’s largest providers of books to K-12 schools. “It’s being driven by legislation, it’s being driven by politicians aligning with one side or the other. And in the end, the librarian, teacher or educator is getting caught in the middle.”

Among the most frequent targets are books about race, gender and sexuality, like George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy,” Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” and Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”

The article continues with a student’s perspective on a ban in his school:

Jack Petocz, a 17-year-old student at Flagler Palm Coast High School who organized the protest against the book ban, said that removing books about L.G.B.T.Q. characters and books about racism was discriminatory, and harmful to students who may already feel that they are in the minority and that their experiences are rarely represented in literature.

“As a gay student myself, those books are so critical for youth, for feeling there are resources for them,” he said, noting that books that portray heterosexual romances are rarely challenged. “I felt it was very discriminatory.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What do you think about efforts across the nation to remove books — especially ones that address race, gender and sexuality — from school libraries?

  • How do you think these bans affect students, teachers and librarians?

  • In your opinion, what makes a book “appropriate” or “inappropriate” for inclusion in a school library? If you were a school librarian, what criteria would you use to determine whether a certain book should be included in the library?

  • What’s the best way to address parents’ concerns that a book in a school library is inappropriate for their child? Should the library remove the book? Should a library have a policy in place to stop individual students from checking out a book if their parents disapprove of it? Or are there better solutions that don’t involve changing what books are available in a library?

  • Jack Petocz, a student who protested a book ban in his school, argued that removing books about racism and L.G.B.T.Q. issues was discriminatory. Do you agree? Why or why not?

  • Do you think the books in your school library represent a diverse range of perspectives and experiences? What subjects are adequately covered? What kinds of books would you like to see more of?

Want more writing prompts? You can find all of our questions in our Student Opinion column. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate them into your classroom.

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.