By Will Hammann
For The Diamondback
Maryland community members discussed controversial bannings of books amid a rise in parental rights advocacy in education during a virtual presentation last Tuesday evening.
Panelists at the event, which was hosted by the University of Maryland’s Frederick Douglass Center for Leadership Through the Humanities, said that books are increasingly being banned from public school libraries on the whims of a minority of parents.
3,362 instances of books being banned, including 1,557 unique titles, occurred in public school systems across the country during the 2022-23 school year, according to Pen America — an organization dedicated to defending writers and protecting free speech. This is an increase of 33 percent from the year prior
This push to ban books is part of the “Parents’ Rights” movement, Lindsay Carpenter, the head of research education at this university’s libraries and the lead speaker at the presentation, said. This movement seeks to allow parents to manage school curriculum in order to increase parents’ role in their children’s education.
Pen America said book banning is also exacerbated by “educational intimidation bills,” which impose the preferences of a censorious minority of parents on everybody.”
These bills have been introduced in 46 states since 2021, including bills in Maryland that would require parental review of school curriculum.
Most school districts with book bans during the 2022-23 school year have a parents’ rights advocacy group in the area, according to Pen America. One of these groups, Moms for Liberty, has 284 chapters in 44 states, including Maryland. In Carroll County, 58 books have been challenged by Moms for Liberty since the start of this school year, Carpenter said in her presentation.
Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Cynthia McCabe removed all 58 of these books — including A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky — from shelves until they could be reviewed by a reconsideration committee.
Of all the books banned across the country between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years, 37 percent contained characters of color or themes of race and racism, and 36 percent contained LGBTQ+ characters or themes, according to Pen America.
Oscar Barbarin — an African American studies and psychology professor at this university — is not surprised by this, and said that there is a misguided notion that racism is no longer prevalent.
Children not learning about racism has led to a whitewashing of history, Barbarin added.
Barbarin said he understands why parents want some control over their children’s readings, but he doesn’t think banning books is the solution.
Barbarin said his grandson was once upset by the contents of an assigned book in school.
“The problem was that the teacher didn’t prepare them for what they would be reading about,” Barbarin said. “Those kinds of experiences give some fuel to the fire . . . but a ban is an overreaction.”
In addition to books about race, books written by LGBTQ+ authors and containing LGBTQ+ themes make up a large portion of books being banned, according to Pen America.
GerShun Avilez, an English professor at the university and associate dean of the Douglass Center, said books about sexuality and gender are being banned because people conflate them with sexually explicit content.
Avilez believes it was important to have Tuesday’s discussion about book banning to remind community members that literature is being restricted in Maryland.
“Part of the value of the conversation yesterday was reminding us this is happening in Maryland as well. Maryland isn’t free of these kinds of activities,” he said at the event.
Carpenter, an alum of CCPS who has family working in the school district, said that as a librarian, she cares about all members of the public, not just students, having access to information.
“It’s important that we help people know what their rights are, what policies are in place so that they can push back against attempts to challenge books or to change policy to allow for censorship to run rampant,” Carpenter said.