Efforts to ban books are increasing. Philly YA authors say ‘silent censorship’ is also getting worse

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A Bucks County school district sent a letter this month asking educators to remove all library books with “content that refers to gender identity” from public shelves, saying “these topics should always involve conversations between the student and a trusted adult ”and that this decision“ would ensure that our students are fully supported ”.

The Central York School District, meanwhile, has banned educators from teaching a series of books and other media focused on racial justice, fearing white students will feel guilty about their race – until that students protest this fall and get the one-year ban overturned.

Across the country, new laws that restrict education about gender, race, and American history are being used to remove books from shelves. Books divide, say parents and politicians, and serve to “brainwash” students.

Attempts to ban books are not new. But experts say we have entered a new era of censorship, marked by what the American Library Association (ALA) has called “a dramatic increase in book challenges and the outright removal of books from libraries.” especially those that focus on the experiences of blacks and gay people.

“In my twenty years with ALA, I can’t recall a time when we had multiple challenges to face on a daily basis,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom at ALA, in a statement. release last month.

The office saw 60% more book issues in September compared to September 2020. And those are just the challenges reported to the ALA, largely efforts to restrict clear and straightforward books – like those at Pennridge. School District in Bucks and York County. County.

But silent censorship, the kind that occurs in the decisions educators make about what to teach or what to keep on the shelves, is also on the rise, say the Philly authors who have encountered challenges. with their books for young adults.

At this time, while educators may lose their jobs and schools may lose funding for educational materials considered politically controversial, it is sometimes easier for teachers and librarians to protect themselves from attacks by choosing not to invite. an author to talk about her book focused on trans. characters or to put it on the shelves.

Heather Hebert, owner of Children’s Book World in Haverford, works with local schools to organize book fairs, which are also fundraisers for the school. This year, two schools that also ran ongoing book challenges canceled their book fairs.

Hebert, 53, said she was unsure whether it was because of the political climate or because the people who run book fairs are already burdened with dealing with the challenges of the book, but historically these are events which “have never been controversial”.

Since it goes unnoticed, this kind of quiet censorship cannot be fought by protest or publicity.

“These are choices we’ll never know,” said author Alex London. “They are happening invisibly and quickly.”

London, who is 41 and lives in Mount Airy, has written dozens of fantasy and sci-fi books for young adults and children that sometimes feature queer and non-binary characters. One of his books, a dystopian novel entitled Proxy featuring a main character who is gay, was one of hundreds screened for “vulgar content” at a San Antonio-area school district after he appeared on a list of books that the State Representative of Texas Matt Krause, a Republican candidate for state attorney general, has asked the Texas Education Agency to investigate.

“For us, it’s not about politics or censorship, but rather about making sure parents choose what is right for their minor children,” a spokesperson for the North East Independent School District told the Texas Tribune. earlier this month.

Kyle Lukoff, who has faced many high profile challenges for his book Call me max of a trans child this year, said complaints against him are often framed in similar language of personal choice and neutrality – “when it is actually pretty blatant fanaticism.”

The director of learning for the Austin school district where Call me max sparked an uproar last March, saying Lukoff’s book was “not appropriate to be read aloud to an entire elementary age group.”

“When they say, ‘We don’t want our kids exposed to gender identity topics,’ what they mean is specifically transgender identity because their kids are exposed to cis people. day, every day, “said the 37-year-old. old man who is moving to South Philly from New York next year to be closer to her boyfriend.

More than 60 laws restricting the teaching of critical race theory and other subjects – dubbed “educational gag orders” by the nonprofit PEN America – were introduced in 26 states this year, including Pennsylvania. Twelve of these laws have been passed.

In Pennsylvania, State Representative Russ Diamond (R., Lebanon) introduced a bill last summer that prohibits educators from teaching “a racist or sexist concept”, defined in part as the concept that ” an individual, by virtue of an individual’s race or gender, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously. An institution found guilty of breaking the law would lose state funding in the current fiscal year and the next.

Laurie Halse Anderson has criticized Bill Diamond and others as dangerous to children because of the way it seeks to control thinking and access to information.

The 60-year-old author who lives in Upper Dublin says she has long tried to censor her books – her young adult novels have appeared on a “Frequently Banned / Contested” list because of the way they explore the world. consent and sexual violence – but this time is different.

Efforts to ban books are coordinated by groups such as Moms for Liberty. Librarians are concerned for their safety. It is no longer an individual book, but to remove large swathes of books that address race and queer issues.

It’s censorship, Anderson said, with a “big brush.”

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