Banned Book List Contains Books That Aren’t Actually Banned

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Reagan Reese Contributor
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PEN America’s list of banned books contains material that is no longer banned or was never banned in the first place, the organization confirmed to the Daily Caller News Foundation.

An organization advocating for “human rights” in literature and education, PEN America’s 2021-2022 “Index of School Book Bans” includes books that were once banned, whether the restriction was temporary or permanent, as well as books that were “restricted or diminished” in access. The list was the subject of a Thursday Heritage Foundation analysis which found that 74% of the 2,532 books listed on PEN America’s report are no longer banned and still listed as available in schools.

“PEN America has stated repeatedly that we record instances where students’ access to books they were once free to read has been diminished,” Suzanne Trimel, senior advisor of communications for PEN America, told the DCNF. “Obviously, that happens in many ways. Bans come in different forms. Some are permanent. Others are temporary. We use the category of ‘banned pending investigation’ to describe some of these circumstances, which certainly can change. In fact some book bans are ended because of advocacy from students, parents and community members who care about the freedom to read; so it’s not surprising to see people pushing back and some books going back on shelves.”

The “Index List” notes that it “includes where students’ access to books in school libraries and classrooms in the United States was restricted or diminished, for either limited or indefinite periods of time.” While some of the bans listed by PEN America remain in place, some on the organization’s list have been lifted, putting the material back in the classroom, according to the group’s website.

A “book ban” is “any action taken against a book based on its content… 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,” PEN America states on its website. The phrase does not include “regular curriculum review” that results in material being left out of lessons or situations where books have been deemed more appropriate for a different age group.

The list of book bans also includes instances where books were removed upon being challenged and pending investigation, the group’s website stated. Districts across the country have such policies in place; a Texas school district removed all 41 books that had been previously challenged while the school board reviewed the material, according to USA Today.

A South Carolina school pulled 97 books off its selves that had been challenged for “inappropriate content” in order to review whether the material should be available to students, WSAV News reported. In Missouri, one school district removed 220 books for review after a state law was enacted which prohibits any depiction of sexually explicit material from the classroom, EdWeek reported.

“In some cases, books are removed from shelves pending investigations or reviews, and they may be only temporarily restricted, but their restriction is recorded in the Index as a ban since such restrictions are counter to procedural best practices for book challenges from the American Library Association (ALA) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC),” PEN America’s report stated.

Dr. Vickie L. Cartwright, Superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, helps children find books to be given out for summer reading at Riverside Elementary school as the school district observes A Day of Service and Love in commemoration of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2022 in Coral Springs, Florida. Four years ago on February 14, fourteen students and three staff members were killed during a mass shooting at the school located in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Dr. Vickie L. Cartwright, Superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, helps children find books to be given out for summer reading at Riverside Elementary school as the school district observes A Day of Service and Love in commemoration of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2022 in Coral Springs, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Still, free speech advocates warn that the process of reviewing books could incentivize schools to proactively remove content that could be construed as objectionable.

“If librarians are constantly having to remove books from shelves and investigate them — particularly because of objections to certain ideas or themes — they may well decide to stop stocking any potentially controversial books, reducing the availability of different ideas for the public to explore in the libraries,” Aaron Terr, FIRE director of public advocacy, told the DCNF.

The Heritage Foundation was unable to find 26% of the books PEN America listed as banned from the classroom, the analysis showed. Many of the books that the Heritage Foundation was unable to find included sexually explicit books such as “Gender Queer,” “Flamer,” “Lawn Boy” and “Fun Home.”

“It is false that 2,532 books were removed from schools during the 2021-2022 school year,” Madison Marino, co-author of the analysis and project coordinator in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “We know this is false because Jay Greene and I examined online card catalogues and found that 74 percent of the books PEN America identified as banned from school libraries are actually listed as available in the catalogues of those school districts. PEN America’s false and hysterical claims of ‘widespread censorship’ only serve to undermine public discourse and fail to protect democratic freedom.”

Marino told the DCNF that neither she nor Greene contacted PEN America when researching or writing the report.

Throughout the country, parents across the country are challenging content within school districts that they consider sexually explicit and pornographic; a group of parents in Maine created a database of 82 sexually explicit books found within its school district’s libraries including “Tricks,” a story about five teenagers who get involved in prostitution. In Michigan, a school board meeting was postponed after Muslim parents protested the presence of sexually explicit books including “This Book Is Gay,” a book that gives the “ins and outs of gay sex,” in the school libraries.

“All book bans limit students’ opportunities to learn,” Trimel told the DCNF. “This movement is threatening the jobs of dedicated teachers and librarians and it’s sowing divisions and weakening our education system. For more information, see our FAQ.”

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