The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

OPINION | Book Censorship: America’s Losing Battle for Academic Freedom

New attacks on academic freedom have become more prominent for those in the US education system. Conservative advocacy groups joining forces with influential political figures to ban non-traditional books they don’t agree with has been quietly trending for years. 

According to PEN America, the majority of targeted novels have themes around race and LGBTQ+. Book concerns are nothing new to schools across the nation, however attempted book bans have risen to an alarming new high. With a recorded number of 3,362 book bans in the 2022-23 school year (a 33% rise from the previous school year) this trend silently intensifies annually.

Materials being targeted are not just limited to novels being read in English classrooms. Textbooks, websites and whole concepts that contain information these groups feel “uncomfortable” with are actively being censored as well.

In November 2022, The Keller Independent School district in Texas passed a new rule where books that included the concept of gender fluidity would be banned. 

According to an article published by The New York Times in December 2022 this was intentionally pushed by Christian company, Patriot Mobile: “Through its political action committee, Patriot Mobile poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Texas school board races to promote candidates with conservative views on race, gender and sexuality — including on which books children can access at school”. 

Books including LGBTQ+ characters or addressing racial topics like ‘Critical Race Theory’ are most fixed on by such groups. According to The American Library Association, the top five banned novels of 2023 were all challenged specifically for containing LGBTQ+ content, the claim of reasoning being that they were rather “sexually explicit” for students.

Mickey Huff, president of nonprofit organization Media Freedom Foundation and DVC professor, spoke on this issue in an interview: “The nature of what’s being suppressed is political. This is why it’s gotten so off the rails. The whole issue has been politicized”.  

He further shares, “What should be considered a broad based education that represents a wide [part] of society has somehow turned into a campaign that teachers are grooming people, to somehow be a certain way. And the irony in that statement is that if there’s any truth to teachers as groomers, I want people to be independent, critical thinkers.”

 “I want [students] to be well-rounded,” Huff continued. I want them to not only be themselves in the curriculum, I want them to be exposed to other ideas that are different than the ones they’ve been exposed to because the classroom in education is a safe environment.”  

As Huff stated, classrooms need to be seen as a safe and free place for children to learn about views different from ones they already believe. Different ideas being banned or called “threats” by far-right advocacy groups, sends a negative message to students about individuals in marginalized communities. 

Critical media literacy advocate, practitioner, and teacher Nolan Higdon brought up an interesting point that the issue has been a problem on both sides of American politics. He shared about his experience in college during the Bush administration and how people’s fear of terrorism at the time led to the removal of targeted people/media being silenced. 

He then compared this to the years Trump had been elected, where left-wingers were given some institutional power and were able to pressure Silicon Valley to censor right-wing views and voices. And at the same time, far-right groups are pushing laws to censor content at schools. 

With changing times, different issues seem to be targeted every couple of years. Higdon mentioned the rising and hot issue of the war in Palestine: “In fact, at DVC they moderated the emails to remove all discussions about Gaza, even though they didn’t do the same for Black Lives Matter or Ukraine.”

“Students are now getting arrested. Faculty are getting arrested on campuses and now the left are the target of censorship. So it bounces back and forth,” Higdon said. 

 Censorship as an issue doesn’t stop after high school and isn’t limited to books. Whether the topic being argued about is from the Republican or Democratic party, being able to argue is what really matters.

It’s important to recognize that books available in school libraries and classrooms are selected as educational offerings to their students. Having access to information, whether in the form of books or not, is a right owed to American students. Approaching a more digital age of learning, the novels available or assigned to students are a critical part of their curriculum. These stories and what is taught in them, help shape and develop our perception of the world.

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