US book bans: Literature censorship in the US dates back centuries, but this time it’s different: experts

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Thomas Morton, an Englishman who traveled to Plymouth Colony in 1622, wasted no time in clashing with his Pilgrim neighbors, leading a nearby village called Merrymount, made up of English miscreants and ‘Algonquian Indians.

Nicknamed the “Lord of Misrule” by the Governor of Plymouth Colony, William Bradford, Morton and his followers affixed antlers to the top of an 80ft mast, around which they staged a festival with dancing and drinking which was definitely a sin by Puritan standards.

After being banished from the colonies several times and returned to England, Morton wrote the “New English Canaan” around 1633 about his labors across the pond, a book which offered a scathing review of the Pilgrims and is widely regarded as the first prohibited. book in America.

Morton returned to the colonies 10 years later, but his reputation preceded him and the rulers of Massachusetts exiled him to what would become Maine because of the “mocking accusations Morton had leveled against them in the press”. , writes Peter Mancall, professor of history at the University of Southern California. in “The Trials of Thomas Morton”.

While it’s been nearly four centuries since Morton’s magnum opus was banned, the urge to censor hasn’t gone away in America and has erupted in K-12 schools during the 21st century.

The American Library Association reports that nearly 1,600 individual books were challenged or removed from libraries and schools in 2021, the highest number since the ALA began tracking bans three decades ago.

“There has been an unprecedented increase in the number of challenges being reported,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told Fox News Digital. “We receive multiple challenge reports daily when we were getting maybe two or three reports a week.”


Most of the challenges in recent years have come from conservative parents who oppose LGBTQ content and topics that deal with racial issues in ways they see as divisive.

Book bans come from all political walks of life.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” — the 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee that has been a staple in high school classrooms for decades — was No. 7 on the ALA’s Most Banned Books list in 2020.

The classic American novel was removed from the 9th grade reading list by a Seattle-area school board earlier this year for its use of the N-word and what some community members see as an outdated portrayal of racial issues .

In other cases, book bans go both ways. A Texas school district temporarily removed 41 books from library shelves last month that were challenged by community members. Among the contested titles were books with LGBTQ themes like “Not All Boys Are Blue”, but also “The Diary of Anne Frank: The Graphic Adaptation” and even the Bible.

“Whether you’re liberal or conservative, you have to understand that this ax swings both ways,” Will Creeley, legal director for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, told Fox News Digital. “No matter what your values ​​are, teaching a generation of students to call the proverbial speech police if they come across ideas they don’t agree with – that’s creating trouble for us down the line. .”

“Whether you are liberal or conservative, you have to understand that this ax swings both ways.”


Some view this new culture war front as a symptom of America’s one-size-fits-all education system, which forces parents to send their children to certain public schools for seemingly arbitrary reasons like the zip code where they reside, as opposed to values. education to which they aspire.

Implementing school choice policies, which allow parents to decide how taxpayers’ money for their children’s education is spent, would allow families to choose schools that are more in line with their values, according to Neal. McCluskey, director of the libertarian association Cato Center of the Institute for Educational Freedom.

“It fundamentally changes what the education money does or how it gets allocated. Right now what’s happening is people are being taxed at local, state and federal levels and the money goes to public schools, so if you want to use that money, you have to use those schools. But that means diverse people are all being pushed into one school, and that’s what leads to conflict,” a McCluskey told Fox News Digital.

“The choice says, let the money follow the kids. A corollary to that is giving educators the autonomy to start different schools, run different schools.”

Shelves of library books are reflected in the media center at Newfield Elementary School on August 31, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut.
(John Moore/Getty Images)

School choice is an umbrella term that refers to the many ways in which power is transferred from state boards to parents. Vouchers allow parents to apply public funds earmarked for their children’s education to private school fees. Education savings accounts go one step further, allowing families to use these funds for anything from tutoring to a school program used at home.

“What it does is it ends the conflict, at least it ends the need for conflict. Instead of saying you all have to fight to grab the brass ring, that says go get the ring you want, go find a school that’s compatible with your values,” McCluskey said.

“Anyone can do this, rather than everyone having to be put in an arena to fight for control of a single school.”


While battles over book bans have mostly been fought at the local and state level, First Lady Jill Biden weighed in on the issue last week.

“All books should be in the library. All books,” she told NBC News. “This is America. We don’t ban books.”

“This is America. We don’t ban books.”

Former First Lady Melania Trump had her own brush with book challenges in 2017, when she sent a collection of 10 Dr. Seuss books to schools nationwide for “National Book Reading Day.”

Liz Phipps Soeiro, a school librarian at Cambridgeport Elementary School in Massachusetts, rejected the books and returned them to Trump, writing in the Horn Book Blog that her library didn’t need them and that “Dr. Seuss’ illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda”. , caricatures and harmful stereotypes.”

A book by Dr. Seuss is seen while children play at the Children's Museum in Manhattan.

A book by Dr. Seuss is seen while children play at the Children’s Museum in Manhattan.
(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Battles over book bans exist on a sliding scale, from a librarian rejecting books, to a school district pulling books challenged by parents, to state legislatures implementing policies banning titles outright. specific.


Caldwell-Stone, the head of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, said government-mandated censorship is the category of most concern.

“Any individual, every parent has the right and ability to raise concerns about a school assignment or a book,” she said.

“It is the First Amendment right to petition a government agency, but we are deeply concerned about the efforts of elected officials, governing bodies governed by the First Amendment, who censor documents based on their point of view or because they deal with a controversial topic in a way that they don’t always agree with.”

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