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How Will K-12 Book Bans Impact Higher Ed?

Culture war battles have long been fought in colleges and K-12 schools alike, with ideological opponents clashing over free speech, academic freedom and even the politics of fried chicken chains. But a renewed battle over books has some in higher education worried about students’ college readiness as school boards across the U.S. remove challenging texts from the K-12 curriculum.

Some worry that it isn’t just high school students who will suffer but also those in lower grades, who may have their passion for reading stifled before they can fully explore the literary world.

“If you want to get kids excited about reading, you let them read whatever they’re interested in, and kids are interested in the things that are in banned books,” said Kathy M. Newman, an English professor who heads the Banned Books Project at Carnegie Mellon University. “They’re interested in sex, they’re interested in sexuality, they’re interested in race and racial controversy.”

But parent groups across the U.S. have made waves, and headlines, by protesting the inclusion of certain books in public school curricula. Academics also point to concerted efforts by conservative political groups such as Moms for Liberty, which has ties to deep-pocketed conservative donors. Oftentimes, critics note, the books being challenged—such as Gender Queer: A Memoir or Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You—have racial or sexual minorities at the center of the narrative. Compounding this issue, academics say, is manufactured outrage over critical race theory allegedly being taught in public schools.

Understanding the Battle

According to the American Library Association, more than 330 book challenges were reported to its Office for Intellectual Freedom in the three months spanning Sept. 1 to Nov. 30, 2021. That’s more than double the 156 challenges reported in 2020. The ALA noted by email that not every challenge is reported, meaning these numbers essentially represent a mere fraction of the requests to remove or restrict materials from U.S. libraries and classrooms.

Though ALA numbers suggest book challenges are on the rise, academics who study this issue believe it’s the amplification effect of social media that’s novel, allowing like-minded parents and political groups to latch on to shared outrage.

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed