(Photo courtesy of Zinn Education Project) “Banned Books of 2022 with banned book covers across multiple areas in the United States.”
Parents’ determination to gain the right to control their children’s education has led to the passing of the Parents Bill of Rights Act in the U.S. House Representatives. This new legislation promises that all parents will have the right to be heard and have knowledge of what’s being taught in elementary and secondary schools. The Parents Bill of Rights Act calls for an increase in curriculum censorship and book banning across school classrooms and libraries.
This bill allows parents to request a list of books and reading materials available in their child’s school library and will have the right to inspect all available reading material offered at their child’s school. The Parents Bill of Rights gives parents the opportunity to testify to any books they deem harmful or as an off-limits subject before a school board, therefore removing the book from a school’s libraries and curriculum.
Literature containing topics about race, gender and sexuality are most commonly targeted by the Parents Bill of Rights Act. Dr. Houston, an English Department faculty member at UMass Lowell, says, “[H]aving books that represent all kinds of people, in school libraries, in school classrooms, … is absolutely important for students to see themselves represented in a book. Especially students who maybe are beginning to come to terms with their own gender identity, or sexual orientation, … and that’s what people are blocking.”
The Parents Bill of Rights has started to spark debates about the balance between parental rights and freedom of expression. Dr. Houston says, “the question about parental authority and the boundaries between what a teacher can do in their classroom and what a parent wishes is a very tricky issue.” While parents have a right to be involved in their child’s education, banning books can reduce access to learning about different ideas and experiences.
Taking books off the shelves of school libraries and classrooms limit educational access to children who may not have the resources to find books online or through a public library. Dr. Houston says, “one hopes that at least some of these students who had some access to the book[s] want to go and find it again,” but that is not always possible.
Dr. Houston says, “[L]ibraries are a crucial source of free information for all citizens… so school libraries are really important. Especially when there are librarians who can help introduce young readers to books that might be of interest and importance to them.” Removing books off the shelves of school libraries causes students to lose access to critical information.
Although the Parents Bill of Rights is not censorship in and of itself, it leads to the justification of book and curriculum censorship. The Parents Bill of Rights Act claims to be working towards closing the gap between families and schools during the learning process but is actively opening the door for educational censorship and book banning. This becomes exceptionally problematic when it comes to inclusive literature that discusses topics such as race, gender and sexuality.