Banned books

Books banned by the superintendent of Spotsylvania County Public School are seen on display at Riverby Books on August 22, 2023 in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

(Photo: Julia Nikhinson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

'Ed Scare' Deepens​ as 4,000+ Books Banned in First Half of School Year

"The bans we're seeing are broad, harsh, and pernicious—and they're undermining the education of millions of students across the country," said one lead author of a new PEN America report.

U.S. school districts banned more books during the first half of the current academic year than during the entire last scholastic year, a report published Tuesday revealed.

PEN America recorded 4,349 book bans across 52 school districts in 23 states during the fall 2023 semester, more than double the 1,841 titles that were prohibited during the spring term and more than the 3,362 volumes reported banned nationwide during the entire previous academic year.

"For anyone who cares about the bedrock of American values and the protection of free expression, this report should be a red alert," said Sabrina Baêta, manager of PEN America's Freedom to Read program and a co-lead author of the report, which comes as the free expression and human rights group is under fire from critics who say it's ignoring Palestinian writers during Israel's genocidal war on Gaza.

The report found that Florida again had the highest number of banned books, with 3,135 proscribed titles across 11 school districts. In Wisconsin, PEN America recorded 481 banned books in three districts—including 444 titles blacklisted in the Elkhorn Area School District following one parent's request. Iowa and Texas—with 142 and 141 forbidden titles, respectively—round out the report's top four book-banners.

According to PEN America:

While censors continue to use the concept of "obscenity" to justify widespread books bans, the report examines a wave of intense scrutiny over books that discuss women, sexual violence, and rape. This concerted focus comes amid an epidemic of sexual violence in the United States. The report also finds that books discussing race and racism, LGBTQ+ and especially transgender identities continue to be targeted at consistently high rates.

Book-banners continued to lean heavily upon "anti-obscenity" laws and exaggerated claims of "pornography in schools" in attempts to justify prohibiting books about sexual violence and LGBTQ+ issues. This has resulted in the disproportionate targeting of queer, nonbinary, and women authors. Similarly, the conservative fixation on purging critical race theory and "woke ideology" is undermining efforts to ensure school libraries are diverse and inclusive.

"Book bans are targeting narratives about race and sexual identities and sexual content writ large, and they show no sign of stopping," said Baêta. "The bans we're seeing are broad, harsh, and pernicious—and they're undermining the education of millions of students across the country."

But people are fighting back against what PEN America calls the "Ed Scare."

"Galvanized by the actions of the very students most impacted by book bans, a broad coalition of educators, librarians, parents, authors, and advocates are organizing in ways large and small to protect the freedom to read," the report notes.

PEN America Freedom to Read program director Kasey Meehan, another co-lead author of the report, said that "students are at the epicenter of the book-banning movement, and they're fearlessly spearheading the fight against this insidious encroachment into what they can read and learn across the country."

"By suppressing these stories, censors seek to delegitimize experiences that resonate deeply with young people," Meehan added. "Just as we've seen the power of America's youth in rallying around causes such as gun violence prevention, they're refusing to yield to the censorship of book bans threatening their peers and communities."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.