The Dallas Morning News
Book bans hurt youth, our democracy
Texas takes the lead, with 801 books pulled in 22 school districts
By now, you’ve probably heard about sweeping efforts to ban library books in our public schools from coast to coast.
Officials and activists, worried about “decadent and suggestive” content, have pushed for banning certain books, going so far as to threaten fines or jail time for people who make the materials available to others.
The fact that this sounds familiar should be cause for alarm because this is the actual language and the punishments used in North Korea for possessing Western literature. Under Kim Jong Un’s regime, people can receive death sentences for possessing books that don’t meet the approval of government censors.
If book banning bothers you, don’t worry, you’re not alone. In survey after survey, voters still have an overwhelmingly positive view of public school libraries. In one poll by Everylibrary Institute, half of all participants said that there is never a situation in which a book should be banned. Book bans are neither popular nor good for our democracy.
Sadly, Texas leads the way in banning books and censoring the ideas contained in their pages. According to a study by PEN America, from July 2021 through June 2022, 801 books were banned across 22 Texas school districts. Last year was a record for book bans and challenges in the United States, and the movement shows no sign of slowing.
Just before Christmas, we learned that the Granbury ISD superintendent was under federal investigation for trying to ban all books on sex and gender orientation. The Llano County Library System is facing a lawsuit for trying to systematically remove books that it believes contains pornography, including age-appropriate books on human anatomy. Keller ISD recently banned books on gender fluidity. League City is attempting to ban all books with “obscenity or other harmful content.”
A bill currently in the Texas House would force publishers to label books in Texas school libraries according to government standards, creating another barrier to access for students.
Given this current climate, it’s not surprising to see librarians leaving the profession. Some of them say they have endured harassment, character assassination and even death threats, reported The Texas Tribune. That’s a huge concern, and here’s why: If we don’t have trained professionals leading our children to quality sources of information, then we effectively are relegating children to a search engine such as Google to meet their information-seeking needs. And if what children are looking for is information about sex and gender, then they are eventually going to run across actual pornography.
A new report published earlier this year on teens and pornography usage bears this out. Common Sense Media found that of teens who have viewed pornography online, 79% said they were learning about anatomy or the human body. That used to be the role of anatomy books. Only 20% of those surveyed said they learned about sex topics through books. And what kind of information are teens getting from online pornography? A total of 52% said the pornography they observed contained violence, the kind that “depicts what appears to be raping, choking or someone in pain.” This is not what you will find in library books, but it is what young people will find when school library resources become unavailable.
We need to take the long view of this and err on the side of intellectual freedom. Calling everything that deals with sex or gender “pornography” is a scare tactic that will drive children toward misinformation and truly graphic content.
I’m a parent, too, and I understand that parents are concerned about what their kids are reading. My advice would be to start by working through the process in place for challenging books, speaking with a librarian, learning to search an online catalog to see what holdings a library has, and actually reading the entirety of the books for which you have concerns, not just portions of them.
For parents who want to ban books for their children, I would remind them that they are not raising children, they are raising adults. For the sake of a functioning democracy, we need citizens with critical thinking skills, information literacy skills, and the ability to respect the lived experiences of folks who are unlike them.
Children need to learn from a young age to think for themselves, not just follow others. If we don’t empower our children now using quality materials selected by information professionals, then Google will surely oblige.