What is school book censorship?
The books taught in schools, and available in school libraries, should be chosen by professionals based on criteria that are as objective as possible, including the books’ educational, pedagogical, literary and artistic values. When books are kept from students, whether they are removed from classroom teaching, taken off library shelves (or put into restricted circulation) or explicitly banned from schools, because of the personal or political beliefs of any person or group, rather than because of professional educational reasoning, that’s censorship.
Policies already exist in most districts to allow individual concerned parents to influence what their own children read. However, we have seen those policies ignored and repeatedly violated as books are removed without proper review based on the personal opinions of particular groups of people. We have also seen increasing reports of threats to the livelihoods and safety of librarians, teachers, school administrators and school board officials who do not accede to the demands of these would-be censors. No individual or group has the right to impose their beliefs on others. School officials, as government actors, have a First Amendment responsibility to ensure that no particular viewpoint or belief is allowed to dictate what students can learn and read.
This page contains resources to help you advocate for yourself, for your children, for your books, for your schools, in your own communities. Resources will be added and updated as they become available.
One of the best ways to fight censorship is to call it out as it happens. Not sure if it’s censorship? We can help with that, too!
*Note: your report will be kept confidential.
Explore NCAC’s full resource library
How to Advocate for Books
1. Do your research
Know the Policies
Your school district almost certainly has policies on how books are chosen (aka “materials selection”) and what should happen when books are challenged. They are likely published on your school board’s website, but you can also request them from your school. First order of business: Read the policy! Strong book review policies ensure that the process allows all perspectives to be heard, while respecting the rights of students. Book challenges are often highly contentious and emotional, and the regulations should ensure that all parties feel that they have been heard and respected, and also to ensure that decisions are made based on objective criteria which focus on the needs of students.
Read the Book
The whole book! Read the whole book! Often, censors try to claim that individual images, passages or scenes render an entire book unsuitable for students. Rarely have they read the whole book, a fact they often admit with pride. But images, paragraphs, even chapters, are not the whole story. That’s why strong book review policies require a review committee, made up teachers, librarians, administrators, parents, and students, to read the whole book and evaluate it based on established criteria. Books are quite often the safest, most accessible way for young people to engage with new ideas and situations, and can reflect realities of their lives they otherwise fear discussing. Books must be considered in their full context, not judged based on language read out of context or single pages printed on posters at school board meetings. You will be much better able to advocate for a book if you’ve read it.
Gather Expert Opinions
Compile reviews from places like School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews and Booklist. The National Council of Teachers of English offers rationales for teaching particular books to members. Research what awards and commendations the book has received.
2. Find allies
Quietly: Reach out to people individually within your personal social, school and/or professional networks. Try to gauge their interest in becoming vocally involved in opposing book bans. Encourage them to read the books in question. Talk to them about why you feel so strongly about keeping these books in schools.
Publicly: Post in community spaces like online forums and email lists, as well as on your social media, expressing your concern and asking for others who agree with you to attend upcoming school board meetings or write letters. Plan to coordinate your messages and share ideas.
3. Don’t let those who oppose books be the only voices heard
A few key advocacy tools:
- Attend school board meetings and sign up to speak.
- Write letters to school administrators, board members and local officials. Putting your opinions on the record shows district officials that those trying to remove books are not the only ones with strong opinions on these issues and can help support officials to make decisions that protect free expression. Sample letters for students and teachers are below and can be adapted for any writer.
- Contact local media and write letters to the editor of local publications. Letters to the editor are most likely to be published if they are short (think under 200 words) and personal (explaining the impact on you or your community).
- Start or join social media campaigns like #BooksNotBans and #FReadom, as well as local initiatives.
For parents: Talk to your kids about free expression, differing opinions and why it’s important to fight for the rights of all students to access books–even if they aren’t personally interested in reading them.
Remember: Not all books will appeal to all students. That’s okay! If every library book was required to serve every student, the shelves would be bare. A library, including a school library, is meant to include a broad selection of books that provide value to students. Parents who object to their own students reading particular books can utilize district procedures the allow them to influence what their own child reads without imposing their beliefs on all students.
4. Amplify student voices
Too often in this debate, we don’t hear from the people most directly affected: students. Which makes it incredibly powerful when we DO hear students speak about why challenged books matter to them, why their free expression rights must be protected and how these controversies impact their lives at school and outside it. Here are a few examples of student advocacy that have inspired us:
Legal Advice and Employment Protection
NCAC does not litigate. But if you feel that a situation requires legal intervention, there are organizations that can assist you. If you are a teacher or librarian concerned that your job is under threat, reach out to your local union as a first step.