The infamous book-burning in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” is a nod to how citizens do not gather knowledge for themselves.
Instead, they are spoon-fed it.
The lack of access to information has long been a cornerstone of many dystopian universes. What happens when the distribution of knowledge becomes monopolized by the interest of a few? We don’t have to look far beyond the spine to see this fear come to fruition.
While book bans are not new, they are occurring at a record high, targeting themes of race, ethnicity, sexuality, and secularism.
Book bans increased by 33 percent since the 2021-22 school year, seizing public school curriculums across the United States. The most heavily affected areas include states such as Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, and Florida.
The history and experiences of people of color and marginalized people are historically and continuously excluded from the narrative in U.S. education, even though these groups have played a fundamental role in U.S. history.
Seizures of books like ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas or ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’ by George M. Johnson intentionally discard stories that describe how our institutions devalue people of color.
Many book bans are spearheaded by parent groups with conservative agendas. In Walton County, FL, 24 books were removed from shelves after a list of 58 books were sent in by the Florida Citizens Alliance (FCA), a “conservative educational advocacy group that deems them problematic,” according to Northwest Florida Daily News.
Though students in states like California and in progressive enclaves similar to UC Santa Cruz may see book banning as a distant problem, all institutions of education remain under attack.
After a school district in Riverside, California attempted to ban an elementary school social studies textbook that included a lesson on Harvey Milk, California passed Assembly Bill 1078. The bill requires that school boards include materials that accurately portray the cultural and ethnic diversity of our society.
By removing critical literature, conservative groups are manipulating the way students learn about the United States’ socio-political history, erasing the origins of oppressive systems that are still in place today. Open access to these books should be a right, not a privilege to be challenged or interrogated.
Kathy M. Newman, an English Professor at Carnegie Mellon University who heads the Banned Books Project, explains that students at private and elite high schools are more likely to be exposed to books that are banned at public schools.
Students are validated by the literature they consume, especially when their own lived experience and identity is reflected in the characters that come to life.
The book ban movement is a systemic effort to silence marginalized voices. Every story banned is an experience suppressed.