Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Prized literary pieces are disappearing from school bookshelves at an alarming rate. Across the country, a growing movement is trying to demolish a core pillar of education: reading. It feels like we’re living in a Fahrenheit 451 dystopia.
Though current efforts to ban books under the pretense of being “inappropriate” seem to be led by parents and community stakeholders, they are often undercover conservative political operations aiming to fundamentally alter education policy. Don’t be fooled — these members are weaponizing racist and homophobic dog whistles to gain influence over our education systems.
Politicizing the education system must be met with a political response from Democratic state governments. In states where Democrats have control over the legislature and governorship, Democratic trifectas, or where they have a supermajority in the legislature, they need to enforce the power voters entrusted them with by stripping local school boards of the authority to ban books.
Book bans are occurring everywhere. The most damaging examples are in Republican trifectas like Florida, where new laws make it easier to get any book taken off the shelf. It’s unlikely that other Republican governments will do anything to prevent book banning, but in Democratic states, governments can and should take action.
Democrats gained full control over state legislatures, flipped governorships and retained legislative majorities in the 2022 election, outperforming historical expectations. This wasn’t a fluke. Democrats exceeded predictions because citizens are fed up with conservative ideologies politicizing every aspect of life — including school systems.
Democratic trifectas must address this mass hysteria against literature. Crucially, they need to capitalize on these gains before the opportunity slips away. Given the other political party is quickly enacting statewide book bans, Democrats must respond with equal speed and determination.
Lawmakers need to prevent school boards from making rash and arbitrary decisions relating to book banning. Since curriculum varies by jurisdiction, Democratic state governments must intervene and establish consistent standards for public schools.
One state has already adopted preventive measures for public schools. A new California law prohibits school boards from banning books and curricula categorized as inclusive or diverse. This measure was achieved through California’s Democratic trifecta taking actionable steps to thwart the censorship of educational materials.
This is especially pertinent because many banned books are written by marginalized authors or contain material relating to marginalized communities. Blocking diverse ideas perpetuates inequality in the education system and will harm every student.
For legitimate concerns on books that display graphic violence and sexual depictions that violate age-appropriateness, there should be a rigorous review process that involves school media specialists and other educators. These experts should be the ones to decide whether a book belongs on shelves — not school boards.
Exposure to diverse viewpoints through literature is essential for students’ intellectual growth. When books are banned, students are denied the opportunity to explore different perspectives and form their own opinions. Literature spreads vital knowledge and eliminates barriers to learning about others, fostering the exchange of beliefs, experiences and traditions. When students don’t learn from a diverse range of books, they face limitations in real-life settings.
Losing the opportunity to interact with banned books can harm students’ future prospects, affecting their ability to excel in academic assignments, present before diverse audiences and navigate ethical dilemmas. It can also weaken their detection of misinformation and impair their capacity to make independent decisions.
State governments should remove the ability to ban books from school boards because of the threat it poses to students learning advancements. We should not allow our representatives to stand idly while politically motivated groups work to inhibit students’ critical thinking skills.
To secure a future characterized by well-rounded educational standards and heightened awareness of human diversity, it’s imperative for Democratic trifectas to take immediate action.
Failing to address the severity of this problem implies state leaders are actively neglecting it. If Democratic leaders are adamantly opposed to book banning efforts, they must decisively wield their authority over school boards.
Hunter Craig is a senior public policy major. He can be reached at email@example.com.