Moving Forward from Book Bans

As you may have heard, book banning in schools has become a hot-button issue. The American Library Association recorded an unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022, with popular middle grades titles like New Kid by Jerry Craft and Maus by Art Spiegelman among those in contention. This issue impacts not just students, but everyone in the school community.

While we are not commenting on any particular title or author, the purpose of this article is to generally highlight banning books from schools as a dangerous practice for several reasons. We have written previously about creating inclusive classroom environments. Censorship is the opposite of inclusion. It signals that all voices are not welcome here. When we censor books, we send students the message that different beliefs and backgrounds are acceptable only if they are aligned with the beliefs of the majority. This is especially salient during Pride Month, as studies show that books dealing with LGBT themes were more likely to be banned.

Students must be exposed to texts that both reflect their lives and allow them to get a glimpse into the lives of others – also known as windows and mirrors. Rudine Sims Bishop explains, “the study of texts that reflect their own identities, experiences, and motivations (mirrors) and also provide insight into the identities, experiences, and motivations of others (windows) can move students toward more nuanced perceptions of the world around them.”

In a time when student literacy levels are dropping in the United States across students of all demographics, it is particularly important that kids have access to book that will engage them. We lose student engagement when they do not see themselves represented in the books they are given to read or see the books they are given to read as relevant to their lives.

How do we move forward in this charged political landscape?

What can educators and school leaders do to support authors and marginalized communities, while honoring the voices of families? Where is the emotional and practical middle ground on this heated and controversial topic? We suggest a few starting points.

  • School districts and school leaders can:
    • Engage in thoughtful practices and active listening to honor individual families and concerns about particular titles.
    • Be mindful of the fact that book banning can send the message that particular experiences, identities, and beliefs are not welcome in classrooms and schools.
    • Push for open, reflective, and respectful dialogue whenever possible.
    • Give critical thought to the silencing or removal of particular voices from reading.
    • Work to develop academic freedom policies based on the idea that the free exchange of ideas is essential to good education.
    • Be respectful of the views of immigrant communities in their districts and remember that people in those communities come from varied cultural backgrounds and may hold values and beliefs that are different from those of the majority.
  • Teachers can:
    • Be creative in providing alternatives for individual students and be receptive to concerns expressed by families.
    • Encourage individuals who respond unfavorably to particular titles to read the titles they are calling into question.
    • Continue to advocate for best practices regarding exposing students to varied content and multimodal texts.
    • Use structures such as book clubs, sustained silent reading time, 1:1 reading conferences, and whole class read-aloud to help students analyze and discuss potentially controversial texts in thoughtful and supportive ways.
    • Consider context, time, and place when deciding whether to censor texts. Removing books that now look out of date or prejudiced denies students the opportunity to have discussions about changing societal norms and the history of inclusion.
  • Parents can:
    • Engage in open-minded and respectful dialogue with school leaders and teachers.
    • Search for diverse books to read to their children at home.
    • Use sites like Common Sense Media and Goodreads to look up book reviews of popular titles. Both sites include reader reviews and Common Sense Media also includes content ratings. You can filter books based on the amount of violence, nudity, cursing, and drug references present.
    • Peruse the site Unite Against Book Bans to find resources and action packs for parent activism at the local and state levels.

As teacher leaders ourselves, we encourage our fellow educators to stand against book banning and censorship in our schools. We echo the American Library Association’s position in opposition to “any effort to coerce belief, suppress opinion, or punish those whose expression does not conform to what is deemed to be orthodox in history, politics, or belief. The unfettered exchange of ideas is essential to the preservation of a free and democratic society.”

What are your thoughts? Is book banning happening in your district? How do you feel about it? Please share your response in the comments section below.

Megan Vosk and Jason DeHart are both members of the AMLE Teacher Leaders Committee.

Megan Vosk teaches MYP Individuals & Societies at Vientiane International School. She is also the chair of the AMLE teacher-leader committee. She can be reached on Twitter @megan_vosk

Jason DeHart earned his PhD in Literacy Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knxville in 2019. DeHart has served as a middle school teacher, high school teacher, and assistant professor.