American schools and libraries are currently under attack. A report from PEN America found almost 1,500 attempts to ban books at the start of the 2022-2023 school year, which marked a 28% increase from the previous six months. These various bans impacted almost 900 unique titles and represent over 100 titles removed from student access each month. PEN found that such book bans are most prevalent in Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah, and South Carolina. These bans are driven by a conservative movement and their ideological allies in the Republican Party, and will not stay within the bounds of states. The Republican-held House passed a federal piece of legislation that would make such book bans easier. The federal law currently has no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Biden is opposed to such legislation.
We should understand book bans as an attack on democratic life. The wave of book bans do not represent a majority of public opinion. An analysis from The Washington Post found that a mere 11 people were behind over half of 1,000 different book challenges. The investigation found just one person responsible for almost 100 challenges. A 2022 study from Every Library Institute found that 75% of Americans oppose book banning in schools and libraries. This study’s findings echo similar reports on book ban oppositions by CBS (8 in 10 oppose) and NPR/Ipsos (69% oppose) conducted this year. In other words, a small group of extremists are pushing a harmful agenda on the public.
The small minority seeking to curtail educational freedom is being met with grassroots and electoral pushback. Last year’s midterm found several of the leading and loudest voices against LGBTQ material and BIPOC authored texts losing their races decisively. These results lead many political commentators to note that book bans are a losing issue for most political candidates. Despite the diminishing electoral returns, states controlled by conservative politicians are continuing to ban curriculum that includes LGBTQ and BIPOC writers, experiences, and voices. It’s important that we support efforts by educators and their community allies across the country in standing up to book banning efforts. Indeed, student organizations and activists are leading efforts to curtail book bans across states and districts.
Additionally, our anti-book ban strategy must include shoring up protections for the freedom to read in states where the legislative power is amicable to such efforts. To illustrate, the rapid and growing number of book ban efforts is slowly meeting legislative pushback. Illinois recently made headlines for becoming the first state in the nation to ban book bans through legislation. President Biden vowed to appoint an “anti-book ban” coordinator at the federal level to support states and districts fighting for the freedom to read. Our own state of New York must join the growing movement to fight the current wave of book bans with proactive legislation.
Fortunately, a bill known as the “Freedom to Read Act,” is currently making its way through New York’s legislative body. The bill would establish protections via the commissioner of education so that “school libraries and librarians are able to provide students with access to the widest array of age-appropriate materials available to such school district.” State senator Rachel May (D-Syracuse) proposed the bill to ensure “students have access to many perspectives that can enrich their minds and broaden their perspectives” and to support “students’ development as learners and as active participants in our society.” Assembly member Daniel O’Donnell (D-69) has introduced the equivalent bill in the lower chamber in part to counter the rising wave of state book bans: “As other states across the country try and silence stories about LGBTQ people, civil rights leaders, and more, New York State should make it clear that we welcome stories that reflect the true diversity of our world.”
I urge readers to contact their state representative and senator. You can use the NYS Legislative website to find your representative and the NYS Senate website to find your senator along with their contact information. Calling members is typically seen as more effective than writing emails or social media posts. If you can attend your elected official’s town hall or open forum then I encourage doing so as well. Contacting an elected official can be intimidating or awkward the first time, so please feel free to adapt this script if it’s helpful:
My name is ____________________ and I am a constituent in your district. I am calling to voice my support for New York’s “Freedom to Read Act” Senate Bill: S6350B.
This act is important to me because _________________________. Thank you for listening to your constituents. I look forward to hearing your response.
You can include information about your role as an educator, parent,or community member in your call. You can also voice the importance of having classrooms where all students can access texts that speak to their experiences and affirm their identities. Feel free to also briefly include relevant research and any testimonies that can bolster your argument for the “Freedom to Read Act.”
Our public schools and libraries need the state legislator to act with urgency and pass this law. New York’s “Freedom to Read Act” can provide a defense against the groups and politicians who seek to restrict the freedom to read. Our young readers, educators, and librarians deserve action from our state leaders. New York must make the “Freedom to Read Act” a reality.
Henry “Cody” Miller is an associate professor of English education at SUNY Brockport. During his seven years as a high school English teacher and in his current role, he positions texts as vehicles to discuss broader socio-political issues in students’ lives and worlds. Miller is the editor of English Leadership Quarterly. He was awarded NCTE’s LGBTQ+ Advocacy & Leadership Award in 2022. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CodyMillerELA.