How the new banned books panic fits into America’s history of school censorship

Experts see a special virulence in this winter's wave of conservative-driven school book banning efforts.

It seems as though every few years, a new wave of panic sweeps across America about the books being taught in schools. They are too conservative, or too liberal; they’re being suppressed, or they’re dangerous; they’re pushing an agenda; attention must be paid. This winter sees America in the grips of the latest version of this story, with conservative-driven school book bannings heating up across the country. And experts say there’s a special virulence to this particular wave.

In Tennessee, a school board yanked Art Spiegelman’s graphic Holocaust memoir Maus from the eighth-grade curriculum. Last fall, a Texas legislator launched an investigation into 850 books he argued “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex,” including The Legal Atlas of the United States and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” In December, a Pennsylvania school district removed the LGBTQ classic Heather Has Two Mommies from school libraries.

“There’s definitely a major upsurge” in school book bannings, says Suzanne Nossel, CEO of the free speech organization PEN America. “Normally we hear about a few a year. We would write a letter to the school board or the library asking that the book be restored, and very often that would happen.”

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