Coinciding with Banned Books Week 2022, held September 18-24, PEN America has issued a new report, which found that more than 2,500 book bans were issued in some 140 school districts in 32 states during the 2021-22 school year.
The report, Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools, includes updated data to its Index of School Book Bans first issued in April, along with new data on the most frequently banned titles and authors, as well as with an updated list of school districts and states that have issued the most bans.
In a release, PEN officials said that the report shows book bans growing at an “increasingly rapid pace,” especially in terms of books featuring protagonists of color, issues of race, or LGBTQ characters. In addition, the report also details the influence of “a growing constellation of groups involved in coordinated efforts to ban books,” identifying “at least 50 groups” that are advocating for bans at the national, state, or local level, with hundreds of local parent and community groups having “a direct or influential role”
in “at least half the bans” enacted across the country during the 2021-22 school year.
“Our report demonstrates that today's wave of bans represents a coordinated campaign to banish books being waged by sophisticated, ideological, and well-resourced advocacy organizations,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, in a statement. “This censorious movement is turning our public schools into political battlegrounds, driving wedges within communities, forcing teachers and librarians from their jobs, and casting a chill over the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual freedom that underpins a flourishing democracy.”
The new report expands on the findings of PEN America’s groundbreaking report, Banned in the USA: Rising School Book Bans Threaten Free Expression and Students’ First Amendment Rights, first released in April, finding roughly 1,000 more book bans than previously reported.
Among the report’s key findings:
- Some 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 unique book titles
- A total of 674 banned titles (41%) involve LGBTQ themes or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ
- 659 banned titles (40%) feature protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color, with 338 banned titles (21%) directly addressing issues of race and racism
- At least 40% percent of reported bans listed are connected to “political pressure or legislation” designed to restrict teaching and learning
- Texas ranked first among states with the most bans (801 in 22 districts), followed by Florida (566 in 21 districts) and Pennsylvania (457 in 11 districts)
- The most frequently banned books were: Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe (banned in 41 districts); All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson (banned in 29 districts); and Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez (banned in 24 districts)
PEN defines a school book ban as “any action taken against a book based on its content and as a result of parent or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by lawmakers or other governmental officials, that leads to a previously accessible book being either completely removed from availability to students, or
where access to a book is restricted or diminished.”
The new report expands PEN’s research on the surge in educational censorship in America’s schools. In August, PEN released data on the growth in so-called “educational gag orders" and other proposed legislative restrictions on teaching and learning, which PEN officials say increased by 250% in 2022 over 2021.
“This rapidly accelerating movement has resulted in more and more students losing access to literature that equips them to meet the challenges and complexities of democratic citizenship,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education. “The work of groups organizing and advocating to ban books in schools is especially harmful to students from historically marginalized backgrounds, who are forced to experience stories that validate their lives vanishing from classrooms and library shelves.”
The news comes as the ALA last week reported that the number of challenges tracked in 2022 is on pace to shatter the record number of challenged tracked in 2021. In a new report, ALA officials also pointed to the organized political movement driving the surge in book bans across the country calling this "a dangerous time for readers and the public servants who provide access to reading materials."
PEN America is hosting a number of live and online events for Banned Books Week. The full schedule is here.