In a recent White House event, Vice President Kamala Harris exclaimed that, “there are literally—can you imagine, in this year of our Lord 2023, book bans? I mean, really, likes—like, what? Book bans.” The Vice President joined a chorus of activists and teachers union leaders who oppose parents expressing concerns about explicit books in classrooms and school libraries. Her response echoed the message of Banned Books Week, an annual event sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) that perpetuates the narrative that book bans are widespread. How much do you know about “Banned” Books Week? Can you identify which of the following is the lie?
A. Books featured in classrooms, libraries, and bookstores during “Banned” Books Week are not banned.
B. Parents and community members are concerned about exposing children to sexually explicit and age-inappropriate books.
C. Libraries have an obligation to make ALL books available to children.
Let’s take these statements one at a time:
A. TRUTH. There are no blanket bans on books in our country. The “most challenged” books featured in “Banned” Books Week materials are available in school libraries, public libraries, and bookstores across the country. While some school boards and libraries have reviewed explicit books and either deemed them inappropriate for children or shifted them to library shelves for older children, the books are readily available to students and parents, even in the majority of school districts where parents expressed concerns. Of the thousands of books that advocacy organization PEN America claims were “banned” in 2021-2022, for example, 74% are listed and available in the same school districts’ library catalogs.
B. TRUTH. The ALA lists “claimed to be sexually explicit” as a reason why each of the top 13 “most challenged” books were questioned by parents and concerned community members, with some books also challenged due to “depiction of sexual abuse.” The graphic novel “Gender Queer” contains illustrations of masturbation, oral sex, sex toys, erections, and a person holding another’s penis. Another book that has appeared in middle school classrooms and libraries, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” includes detailed descriptions of sex and a sexual assault. “This Book is Gay,” provides sexually explicit instructions and drawings and encourages readers to use sex apps. Another “targeted” book, “Beyond Magenta,” describes instances of sex abuse, pedophilia, and young children engaging in sexual behavior.
C. LIE. Public libraries, as well as school libraries and classrooms, have limited space and resources, and must prioritize which books to purchase and feature. Providing all books in every library is not achievable from a fiscal or logistical perspective. Libraries are not legally obligated to purchase every book published, and must regularly decide which books to purchase with public funds. This includes ensuring that books are age appropriate for children. Elected school board officials are tasked with oversight of their school districts’ libraries and classroom resources. When parents express concerns about books that introduce sexually explicit content to children, and school boards instruct libraries to review and consider removing the books, both parents (as taxpayers) and school board members (as stewards of public funds) are ensuring that resources are used in a way to prioritizes the needs of students.
Children deserve access to books that enhance their knowledge and introduce them to a wide variety of perspectives. They also deserve protection from exposure to sexual content that is not age-appropriate. If school libraries continue to ignore parents’ concerns and expose children to developmentally inappropriate content, then parents should be given access to education scholarship accounts that empower them to enroll their children in schools that will prioritize academic instruction and protect their innocence.