According to a new analysis by PEN America, a nonprofit organization advocating for free speech, Texas banned more books from school libraries this year than any other state in the country, focusing on titles centered on race, racism, abortion, and LGBTQ representation and issues.
According to the report, school administrators in Texas banned 801 books across 22 school districts between July 2021 and June 2022, with 174 titles banned at least twice. A ban, according to PEN America, is any action taken against a book based on its content in response to parental or legislative challenges.
The most frequent books removed included Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, which depicts Kobabe’s journey of gender identity and sexual orientation; The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison; Roe v. Wade: A Woman’s Choice? by Susan Dudley Gold; Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, which follows a love story between a Mexican American teenage girl and a Black teen boy in 1930s East Texas; and All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, a personal account of growing up Black and queer in Plainfield, N.J.
“This censorious movement is turning our public schools into political battlegrounds, driving wedges within communities, evicting teachers and librarians, and casting a chill over the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual freedom that underpins a flourishing democracy,” PEN America’s chief executive officer, Suzanne Nossel, said in a statement.
PEN America discovered that 1,648 unique titles had been banned by schools across the country. 41% of these titles address LGBTQ themes or have LGBTQ protagonists or prominent secondary characters. Another 40% of these books feature black protagonists or prominent secondary characters.
Summer Lopez, PEN America’s chief program officer for free expression, noted that the majority of these book bans target books that families and children can choose to read rather than required reading.
Florida and Pennsylvania were the states with the most bans, followed by Texas. Florida banned 566 books, and Pennsylvania banned 457 titles, with the majority of books removed from one school district in York County, which is known for being more conservative.
Lopez stated that her organization could not recall a year with as many reported book bans.
Texas’ book challenges can be traced back to last October, when state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, sent a list of 850 books about race and sexuality, including Kobabe’s, to school districts, requesting information on how many of those were available on their campuses. This single action prompted parents to challenge and successfully remove books they deemed inappropriate and “pornographic.”
This recent wave of book bans has occurred against the backdrop of a national debate about critical race theory, a college-level academic discipline that investigates how racism is embedded in the country’s legal and structural systems. It is not taught in public schools in Texas. Conservative politicians and parents, on the other hand, have used the term “CRT” to dismiss efforts in public schools to incorporate a more comprehensive and inclusive public-school curriculum, which they see as indoctrination.
Conservatives in some school districts have used book bans and squabbles over social studies curriculum to rally support and raise unprecedented funds to win school board seats by promising to remove “critical race theory” and “pornographic” materials from classrooms. In the midst of ongoing Republican-led political battles over how race, gender, and sex issues are taught in public schools, Gov. Greg Abbott has made increasing parental rights a centerpiece of his reelection platform.
Texas parents, on the other hand, have the right to temporarily remove their child from a class or activity that violates their religious beliefs. They have the right to review all instructional materials, and state law provides them with access to their student’s records as well as to the school principal or administrator. In addition, school boards must develop a procedure for dealing with parent complaints.
According to PEN America’s research, these bans have been largely driven by organized groups formed in the last year to combat “pornographic” and “CRT” materials in schools.