Censorship Does More than Remove a Book

Censorship in school and public libraries can harm student growth. Learn more about EveryLibrary's advocacy efforts and what you can do to help.

EveryLibrary advocates for the freedom to read by joining forces with local anti-censorship initiatives.

Tackling Education Censorship

EveryLibrary has been closely supporting parent groups in school districts to maintain access to books and materials for students and with community groups when public libraries are under attack by book banners and censors.

Our work includes supporting local groups like the Flathead County Library Alliance in Montana, where folks have been defending the library against both censorship and defunding attacks, and the Save Patmos Library initiative in Michigan, where anti-LGBTQ censors went after the library’s funding on Election Day.

On the school library side, we’ve supported parent groups in New Jersey, Washington, Georgia, Missouri, and other states who are organizing to preserve access in their schools and also fight bad legislation.

A Parent’s Role in Censorship of Educational Materials

There is a big difference between what individual families choose for their children and what the standards and curriculum are. Any parent can decide that a book is inappropriate or appropriate for their child. It is a core role and right of a parent to make that decision. But the relevance of a book to the curriculum and to educational standards is established by professional librarians and educators.

Take, for example, the idea that a book on sex or sexuality is relevant within a sex ed curriculum. An individual parent may be uncomfortable with that title or topic and opt their own child out. But the relevance of that book to the topic means that it should be available for every other student. If the book is of good quality and is designed to support the goals of education, including independent reading, one parent’s comfort shouldn’t drive the whole discussion. 

Promoting Expanded Worldviews

Research shows that reading helps people of all ages develop empathy as they gain an understanding of other cultures, perspectives, and people. The world is at our doorstep and on our mobile devices in ways that were never before possible in history.

It isn’t a question of if we should be exposing our students to different worldviews. It is a necessity to help them with information and media literacy skills to understand the world they are living in for themselves. That starts with reading widely. It’s a skill that needs to be developed and nurtured. It isn’t easy to leave the shelter of our homes and neighborhoods, but education should equip our children with the skills they need to succeed. 

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How Censorship in School Stunts Critical Thinking Skills

Limiting access to information, curtailing exposure to ideas, and diminishing opportunities to discover have never been best practices in education—or in civil society. Critical thinking skills go undeveloped in the absence of academic choices. Innovation suffers while our ability to govern ourselves as a society slips. The political regimes that practice censorship find themselves on the wrong side of history because censorship is fundamentally anti-person and anti-people.

The Dangers of Education Censorship

Censorship does two things: one is that it eliminates materials, resources, and stories from the curriculum. From AP classes that don’t have access to difficult literature to school library databases that don’t include uncomfortable research topics to health and sexuality classes that deny the existence of sexual minorities, these books and materials need to be in the schools because they support learning and discovery.

Without access to relevant books and information, students will only learn about topics that these special interest groups are comfortable with. The quality of education is already so uneven around the country. Censorship—and the ability of these groups to set education policies—will erode it even further. 

Supporting Educators Who Oppose Censorship

When new anti-access or pro-censorship laws include civil or criminal penalties for educators and librarians, we are extremely concerned. These professions should not be criminalized for teaching to the curriculum and doing their jobs. But educators and librarians are in the same position as healthcare professionals, public safety, and other public sector workers. They need to follow the law, but the law has to be consistent, just, and clear.

Many of the censorship requirements and new laws that are coming into force are in conflict with basic Constitutional principles in the First Amendment. The categorical removal of books about LGBTQ stories and information may be a violation of Title IX protections in K-12. Removing books about race and the history of discrimination in this country may likewise be violating Civil Rights statutes. Education unions have a significant role in protecting the integrity and interests of teachers, educators, and school librarians.

Censorship as a Tool of Social Control

Censorship can be classified as a form of social control in two ways. One is by defining which topics are outlawed, forbidden, or taboo. By extension, if a topic is censored, any population who is represented in that topic is likewise marginalized or criminalized. This is clearly a situation where the rights of a population to exist and have their stories told becomes a civil rights or human rights violation.

The second way that censorship is used as social control is by creating a climate in which inquiry and discussion are limited or prescribed. If a topic is censored, then anyone looking to discuss the topic is likewise outside of acceptable norms. The second aspect of censorship is a violation of the First Amendment guarantees to freedom of speech.

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How Schools and Libraries Can Protect Against Censorship

There are powerful ways that censorship can be fought in both school libraries and public libraries. In school settings, it is very important to have an engaged discussion about the relevance of a book to the curriculum and to student needs. Books are relevant and useful for a teaching topic even though they may make individual parents uncomfortable. Schools already allow parents to opt their children out of curricula like sex ed and health classes. Protecting students from censorship requires school boards and administrators to return again and again to the relevance of the materials to the curriculum.

In public libraries, it is important to follow smart policies about why a book is brought into the collection in the first place and then defend the rights of individuals and families to make their own choices. If the book makes a person uncomfortable, the library should not change its collection policies but instead help that person or family make better choices for themselves. 

Who Are We?

EveryLibrary is a political action committee dedicated to advocating for libraries across the country. Through our SaveSchoolLibrarian.org digital campaign platform and the FightForTheFirst.org organizing campaign, we support freedom of expression and access to information for students in school libraries while supporting the work and role of school librarians across the country. Our organization’s primary focus of keeping libraries free and accessible has made headlines in supporting the First Amendment.

Visit www.everylibrary.org to learn more about our work on behalf of libraries. 

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