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Why are books being banned in the United States?

September 29, 2023

Banned Books in America: Helping Students Understand

Ask students: Why are books being banned in states across the United States? Why might it be important to read these banned books?


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Why Are Books Being Banned?

Do you remember getting excited for the Scholastic book fair at your school? I keenly remember having that wafer-thin, fragile book catalog in my hand and eagerly reviewing all the books that would be up for grabs at the coming book fair (as you can see in another post, I always went for Goosebumps)

Now, books fairs are different, and even groups like Scholastic are being called out for trying to censor authors after pushback from political groups looking to ban books and control what is read by America’s children. And from 2021-22, PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans shows 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 unique book titles across the country in 138 school districts in 32 states.

Banned Books in Texas

Check out my previous "Today's News, Tomorrow's Lesson" discussing banned books in Texas and other states here.

So what’s the deal?

In honor of Banned Books Week, this special edition of “Today’s News, Tomorrow’s Lesson,” students can explore topics and activities that will help them understand:

  • Why books are being banned; 
  • The history of book banning in America;
  • How the increase in banning books affects teachers and librarians;
  • The impact of banning books on marginalized communities;
  • How local activism can influence national politics; and
  • The similarities and differences in advocacy versus lobbying.

These activities in this banned books lesson aim to encourage students to think critically about book banning and to foster a deeper understanding of the broader implications of banning books and the role of libraries in society. Choose one or all activities to get your classroom talking about one of the most controversial issues affecting our schools today.

Book Bans in America

Remote video URL

Discussion Questions

  • Historical Context: How has the focus of book-banning efforts shifted over the decades, especially when considering depictions of slavery, segregation and racism?
  • Modern Challenges: Why do you think there was such a significant increase in book challenges from 2020 to 2021?
  • Representation: Why might it be important for students to read books that feature characters who look like them or come from similar backgrounds?
  • Empathy and Understanding: How can reading books about people from diverse backgrounds help foster empathy and understanding among students?
  • Literary Merit vs. Controversy: To Kill a Mockingbird is considered one of the most important novels of its generation, yet it was also one of the most challenged. How can a book be both celebrated and controversial at the same time?
  • Role of Educators: How do public school teachers and librarians find themselves at the forefront of the battle over banned books? What challenges might they face?
  • Timeless Themes: The video mentions that certain themes—like love, friendship and betrayal—are timeless. How might these themes be presented differently in contemporary books compared with classics?

Librarians vs. Activists

Remote video URL

Discussion Questions

  • Central Issue: Why has the scrutiny of libraries, books, teaching materials and curriculum become a central issue for conservative politicians?
  • Censorship vs. Protection: Some argue that removing certain books is a form of censorship, while others believe it's a way to protect children. Discuss the fine line between censorship and protection. When does one become the other?
  • Impact on Marginalized Communities: How might the removal or restriction of books dealing with LGBTQIA+ topics or diverse perspectives on race, gender and sexuality impact marginalized communities?
  • Role of Libraries: One woman described libraries as "sanctuaries of knowledge." What role do libraries play in a community? How might that role be compromised if certain books are removed or restricted?
  • Public Participation: The attorney general set up a tip line for the public to report librarians. What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of involving the public in this manner?
  • Future Implications: If the trend of challenging and banning books continues, what might be the long-term implications for students, educators and society as a whole?

Short on Instruction Time? Use This Podcast

Discussion Questions

  1. Patterns in Challenges: Many of the books on the ALA's most challenged list for 2022 have been flagged for LGBTQIA+ content or claims of being sexually explicit. Why do you think these particular themes or topics are frequently targeted for challenges or bans? How does this reflect societal values or concerns?
  2. Organized Efforts: Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada mentions that there are now “organized attempts by groups to censor multiple titles throughout the country without actually having read many of these books”" Why might groups challenge books without reading them? How does this change the nature of book challenges compared with individual concerns?
  3. Recurring Titles: Eight of the titles on the 2022 list have remained there for multiple years. What might be the reasons some books continue to face challenges over time? How do these recurring challenges impact the perception and accessibility of these books in libraries and schools?

Understanding Lobbying and Advocacy

Are lobbying and advocacy the same? Check out the video below and explore the American Library Association and PEN America websites to learn more about how their missions overlap and differ.

Remote video URL

Activity Instructions

  1. Research
  2. Exploration Questions
    • What is the primary mission or goal of each organization?
    • List three key programs or initiatives each organization is currently involved in.
    • How does each organization aim to influence public policy or opinion? Provide specific examples.
    • Identify any partnerships or coalitions each organization is a part of.
  3. Comparison and Contrast
    • In what ways are the missions of ALA and PEN America similar? How are they different?
    • Compare the methods each organization uses to influence public policy and opinion. Are there any similarities or differences in their approaches?
  4. Deep Dive: Lobbying vs. Advocacy
    • Define "lobbying" and "advocacy" in your own words.
    • Based on your research, do ALA and PEN America engage in lobbying, advocacy, or both? Provide evidence from their websites to support your answer.
    • Discuss the importance of these activities in shaping public policy and opinion.
  5. Reflection
    • Why do you think advocacy groups like the ALA and PEN America are essential in a democratic society?
    • How might the work of these organizations impact your daily life or the community you live in?
  6. Extension Project Idea
    • Encourage students to identify a local or national issue they're passionate about and create a mock advocacy campaign, complete with a mission statement, goals and strategies.
Andy Kratochvil

Andy Kratochvil is an SML team member who loves hiking, scary books, Mexican food, and finding great content for the Share My Lesson community.He studied political science and French at California State University, Fullerton and received his Master’s in International Affairs from American University

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