One thousand one hundred and forty-five book titles by 874 different authors, 198 illustrators and 9 translators are banned from school shelves across the United States, based on data collected by PEN America from July 1, 2021 through March 31.
Of the 50 states, Texas ranks first, banning 801 books in 22 districts, according to a PEN America report released on Monday.
From Sunday, Banned Books Week puts the freedom to read on the front page. The annual event, sponsored by a coalition of organizations including the American Library Association, GLAAD, National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN America and many others, highlights the need for free and open access to information.
Common reasons for bans and challenges include “inappropriate” sexual content, “offensive language” and material “unsuitable for any age group”, according to the American Library Association. However, these reasons target books critically dealing with race, gender, class, sexual orientation and more, from Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” to “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson.
While that remains the reality for many school bookshelves, Akiya Blake, a freshman in broadcasting, said the book ban limits student education. Coming from a high school with free access to educational materials and literature on topics considered controversial such as reproductive justice, LGBTQ+ issues and racial injustice, Blake said all students should have the right to read freely.
“If people are interested in something and want to know more about it, they shouldn’t come across (content and literature) that’s banned,” Blake said. “It gets in the way of them and what they want to learn.”
Sharon Obinna, a first-year speech, language and hearing science student, said banning books and teaching materials inhibits student growth in the classroom, especially books like “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, which tackles topics such as racism and colonization.
“If you ban, say, ‘Things Fall Apart’, that’s a whole part of a culture that you’re not allowing people to learn about,” Obinna said.
Although not currently enabled the prohibited list collected by PEN America from July 1, 2021 to June 30“Things Fall Apart” has faced challenges in Texas in the past for its critical portrayal of colonialism, according to the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Deborah Lin, head of mechanical engineering, said censorship can lead to a slippery slope when it comes to who has the power to decide what is allowed or not.
“How can we regulate something that is so subjective for everyone? Lin said. “Who is the right person to decide what should be censored? We have to be very careful with censorship. If we censor (something) then we just believe we are in our own space and everything is going our way. I don’t know if the government should be too involved in something like this.
Obinna said she believes censorship in public education limits more than it helps, leading her to hope for a future where lawmakers care about tackling often overlooked issues.
“My hope for the future is that lawmakers become more open to hearing these stories,” Obinna said. “For education in general, women’s health (is) not something that can be explained very well in schools, and that bothers a lot of young girls. Lawmakers should be more open to (topics like this) because it helps people grow.