7 Tips for Students to Fight Censorship
You can be a literacy advocate for your school library.
When Congress passed The First Amendment on September 25, 1789, they did so with the intention of protecting a person’s right to exercise free speech, free press, the right to assemble peacefully, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The First Amendment prohibits government restrictions on these rights. In 1982, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that a person has a right to receive information and that this is a right protected under the U.S. Constitution. Book bans violate students of their First Amendment right because they deprive a student’s ability to receive information and ideas.
When students are exposed to different cultures and worldviews in literature, they have an opportunity to build awareness and empathy for their peers. Book bans create barriers for students and limit literary representation in the classroom. Limiting representation promotes the further marginalization of already marginalized students. Furthermore, banning titles that represent marginalized thoughts or ideas promotes monoculture, which stems from the belief that a dominant group’s cultural practices or values are superior to those of minority groups.
Despite these facts, book bans continue to rise rapidly in the United States—especially with regard to books whose titles feature LGBTQ themes or address racial inequality. A recent report released by the American Library Association revealed that book challenges increased by 38 percent in 2022 compared to the previous year. Although the numbers feel daunting, students across the nation are fighting back against pro-censorship groups.
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What Can Students Do?
As a student, your thoughts and opinions on this matter. It is important that your school board, local community, and local government representatives hear your concerns. One of the most effective ways to make change is to become an effective advocate for your community.
Follow the steps below to become a more effective literacy advocate:
- Do Your Homework: Contact your school library and request a list of banned and challenged books. If possible, find out why each of these books was challenged or banned and ask your own questions. Does your school already have a review procedure in place to address challenged titles? If so, find out what the procedure is and determine if your school board is following its own procedural rules.
- Consider Your Advocacy Goals: Are you trying to reinstate removed titles? Are you trying to improve your school’s preexisting review process? Look to other anti-censorship groups for support. This spreadsheet, published by Book Riot in March of 2023, includes a selection of anti-censorship groups across the US who may be able to help.
- Develop an Advocacy Plan: Determine which advocacy method(s) will help you achieve your goals. You can start a petition, launch a postcard protest, create a banned book club, contact your library board, contact your local and state representatives, and you should definitely contact your local school board. You can reach out to local media. You can also prepare opinion pieces for the local paper. An advocacy plan is a sort of road map that will help you stay your course as you pursue your advocacy goals. A strong advocacy plan will help keep you on track.
- Raise Awareness: There are many tools on the internet that can be used to raise awareness about your cause. Social media, e-newsletters, email, text messages, snail mail, and phone trees are some of the most widely used methods of contact when building a cohort of advocates to aid you in your cause. A mixed-methods approach can help you reach the largest range of potential supporters in your community. You should keep your supporters apprised of your progress, and be sure to invite them to attend upcoming school board meetings. Make sure all of your communications are clear and that you are transparent to your supporters about your advocacy goals.
- Build Relationships: Be sure to speak with business owners and institutional leaders about your advocacy efforts. You can invite these entities to help you reach your advocacy goals. Privately owned bookstores and public libraries can be great allies during these challenging times. If someone declines your invitation to support you, simply thank them for their time and move on to the next potential partnership.
- Take Action: Follow-through (i.e., taking action) is a critical step in any sort of advocacy endeavor. Refer to your advocacy plan often over the course of your advocacy efforts so that you can continue to achieve your goals in a timely fashion. Make sure that you follow through on the action steps you outlined earlier in your advocacy plan. Remember, taking action leads to change.
- Be Inspired: If at any time you feel that this might be too daunting a task for you, look to others for inspiration.
Sign the petition to fight book bans!
Max Moore is a high school junior in New Jersey. He is involved in Drama Club, Latin Club, Student Advocates for Speech, and the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). Moore believes that banning books and restricting knowledge is a serious matter. He explains that titles should be challenged only in extreme cases, where the material might be promoting misinformation or encouraging dangerous acts.
Moore has been a literacy advocate since his sophomore year when the books This Book is Gay, Lawn Boy, Gender Queer, and All Boys Aren’t Blue were challenged by members of his community. Moore explains, “Unsurprisingly, all of these books contain themes of inclusion, Queerness, and anti-racism. As [the then] co-president of the GSA, I helped rally together students to speak at the Board of Education meetings in order to advocate against the removal of the books. In January of the [following] year, the Board voted to keep each book in the library.” Moore continues his advocacy work as a student ambassador with the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Moore's advice to student literacy advocates is to “not give up.” He says, “Choosing to be silent, choosing to back down means that they win. It means that the people who have been working so hard to ban books and silence your voice win. When you’re in the thick of the fight, it can seem impossible, like this small effort makes no difference. But in reality, it makes a huge difference; just as the small losses can turn the tide of the war, so can the wins.”
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