In a new report released this week, PEN America found 3,362 instances of books banned in public schools in the 2022-23 school year, marking a 33% increase over last year. And in an eyeopening finding, PEN officials found more than 40% percent of all book bans tracked by PEN America occurred in school districts in Florida—1,406 across 33 school districts across the state—with Texas a distant second (625), followed by Missouri (333), Utah (281), and Pennsylvania (186).
"Amid a growing climate of censorship, school book bans continue to spread through coordinated campaigns by a vocal minority of groups and individual actors and, increasingly, as a result of pressure from state legislation," the report, Banned in the USA: The Mounting Pressure to Censor, finds. "Hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric about 'porn in schools,' 'sexually explicit,' 'harmful,' and 'age inappropriate' materials" has led to the removal of "thousands of books covering a range of topics and themes," the report continues, but but overwhelmingly target books on race or racism or featuring characters of color, as well as books with LGBTQ+ characters.
"Notably," the report adds, "most instances of book bans affect young adult books, middle grade books, chapter books, or picture books—books specifically written and selected for younger audiences."
The report builds on three previous reports from PEN, most recently a report title Banned in the USA: State Laws Supercharge Book Suppression in Schools, which looked at the role of new state legislation in fueling book bans. Two previous reports documented nearly 6,000 book bans over the last two years in total.
"Together, the pressure exerted by advocacy groups and the demands of newly passed state legislation are having a profound chilling effect on the availability of books in public schools, leading to thousands of book bans, despite widespread public opposition to them," the report concludes. "Alongside increasingly coordinated efforts to prohibit certain types of instruction and expand avenues for parents, government officials, and citizens to intervene in curricular and extracurricular decisions, book bans are a poignant indication of the destructive ways in which censorship threatens public K–12 schools; free expression; and the free exchange of ideas, information, and knowledge. As students increasingly step up to fight from the frontlines, more adults must follow their lead."
The report follows the release of preliminary data by the American Library Association this week, which showed a continuing surge in attempts to censor books and materials in public, school, and academic libraries during the first eight months of 2023, and with Banned Books Week 2023, set for October 1-7, fast approaching.