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The Perks of Being a Public-School Student_ The Growing Threat of Censorship in American Schools.pdf (85.4 kB)

The Perks of Being a Public-School Student: The Growing Threat of Censorship in American Schools

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posted on 2023-11-20, 20:03 authored by Chloe Dunaj

Book banning has been spreading like a virus across the United States, its tendrils unfurling in elementary, middle, junior high, and high schools nationwide. In practice, book banning is the removal or restriction of material, based upon the objections of a person or group. [1] School Boards have discretionary power over school materials because of the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution, which finds that any powers not delegated to the state are reserved for the States and the people. [2] Historically, book banning has served the interests of those in power, restricting information and discouraging free thought, stifling a nation [3]. Some argue that this defeats the purpose of education itself and does not encourage students to think critically. [3]

As previously stated, school boards have the discretionary power to review school materials because of the Tenth Amendment. In 2022, however, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources. This was the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than twenty years ago. [4] Censors targeted a record 2,571 unique titles in 2022, a 38% increase from 2021. [4] Many of these books were written by or about LGBTQIA+ community or by and about Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color. [4] The process by which books become banned is challenging. A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objects of a person or group. [5] The most challenged books include Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe (151 challenges), All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson (86 challenges), and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (73 challenges). [4] Kobabe and Johnson’s novels were challenged on the grounds that they reference the LGBTQIA+ community as well as claiming to be sexually explicit. [4] Morrison was challenged for depictions of sexual abuse, EDI (Equity Diversity Inclusion) content, and claimed to be sexually explicit. [4] Recently, the Californian State Government signed bill AB 1078 which bans “book bans” in schools, prohibits censorship of instructional materials, and strengthens CA law to require schools to provide all students access to textbooks that teach about California’s diverse communities. [7] California represents the minority on this issue and counters much of popular opinion in this situation.

Book bans span the nation with over 49 states restricting school materials. [8] Florida currently leads the nation in book bans, with 40% of all book bans occurring in school districts across Florida. [7] This is double the amount of book bans instituted by one of the largest states in America, Texas [7] House Bill 1609: Education, took effect in July of this past year, which defined sex for Florida Early Learning-20 Education Code; revised provisions relating to instruction and materials for specified instruction relating to reproductive health; provides additional requirements for instruction regarding human sexuality; provides district school boards are responsible for materials used in classroom libraries; revised provisions relating to objections of certain materials and process related to such objects; revises school principal, school district & district school board duties and responsibilities relating to certain materials and processes. [9] The implementation of this bill has sparked significant controversy and debate across the state, with proponents arguing that it aims to ensure age-appropriate and morally sound educational materials, while critics claim it infringes upon academic freedom and fosters censorship in the classroom. The impact of House Bill 1609 on Florida's educational landscape remains a topic of ongoing discussion and legal challenges.

A wrinkle in the passage of book-banning laws stands for Island Tress School District vs. Pico (1982). In New York, five students, among them Steven Pico, challenged the school board’s decision to abolish books. Pico claimed that the books were removed because “passages in the books offended [the group’s] social, political, and moral tastes and not because the books, taken as a whole, were lacking in educational value”. [9] The constitutional question at hand in this case was: did the board of education’s decision to ban certain books from its junior high and high school libraries, based on their content, violate the First Amendment’s freedom of speech protections? [9] The Court found that it does. Although school boards have a vested interest in promoting respect for social, moral, and political community values, their discretionary power is secondary to the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment. [9] The ruling was held in a 5-4 decision that states school libraries as centers for voluntary inquiry and dissemination of information and ideas, enjoy a special affinity with the rights of free speech and press. Therefore, the Board could not restrict the availability of books in its libraries simply because members disagreed with their idea content. [9] Since the federal precedent on cases regarding book bans only argues about the specific books in question, such as with Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Langston Hughes’s Best Short Stories by Negro Writers [9], many states are able to get away with banning books. Yet the material content of these books is highly like that of the books today.

Island Trees School District vs. Pico could have had a larger impact on preventing laws like that of Mississippi House Bill 437. This bill is currently active and states that teaching history the state functioned as a racist institution during the slavery and Jim Crow periods could result in the loss of state funding for a college, even at a historically Black college. [10] I believe this statement speaks for itself in its inaccuracy and immorality. Censorship is frequently employed to establish the authority of the population and stifle open expressions that could incite revolt. One can look at 35 BC, with Caligula. The Roman Emperor opposed the reading of The Odyssey by Homer, written more than 300 years before. He thought the epic poem was dangerous because it expressed Greek ideas of freedom. [11] More recent examples include 1977 with Decent Interval by Frank Snepp, The novel criticized the Central Intelligence Agency, Henry Kissinger, and U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Snepp succeeded in publishing his book before the CIA knew about it, but the government filed a lawsuit against him, even though no classified information appeared in the book. Three years later, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the CIA and imposed a lifelong gag order on the author after the government seized all of his profits.

The urgency of this issue is pressing because of the scale of effort being coalesced by states across the country. Of the 1,477 reported book ban cases this school year, 74% are connected to organized efforts of advocacy groups; elected officials; or enacted legislation. [7] It is catching fire in the political sphere, and this is a large threat to First Amendment rights for citizens across the nation. Students must be able to critically engage with a wide range of texts to not only bolster their development but also learn what it means to be a citizen in America today.

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