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Most Banned Books In Schools

This list of the most commonly challenged books in the United States refers to books sought to be removed or otherwise restricted from public access, typically from a library or a school curriculum. This list is primarily based on U.S. data gathered by the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), which gathers data from media reports, and from reports from librarians and teachers.[1]

most banned books in schools

As of 2020, the top ten reasons books were challenged and banned books included sexual content (92.5% percent of books on the list); offensive language (61.5%); unsuited to age group (49%); religious viewpoint (26%); LGBTQIA+ content (23.5%); violence (19%); racism (16.5%); drugs, alcohol, and smoking (12.5%); "anti-family" content (7%); and political viewpoint (6.5%).[2][3][4][better source needed]

Since 2001, the American Library Association has posed the top ten most frequently challenged books per year on their website.[4] Using the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, ALA has also noted banned and challenged classics.[5]

Some books have been repeatedly banned or challenged throughout history. This is a list of books that appear the most often on banned books lists. Many of these books are available through the Jack C. Taylor Library. Click on the book for more information!

Would-be book banners argue that readers can still purchase books they can no longer access through public libraries, but that is only true for those with the financial resources to do so. For many, particularly children and young adults, schools and public libraries are the only means to access literature.

An attempt to get a book removed is called a challenge. Most public schools and libraries have boards made up of elected officials (or people appointed by elected officials) who have the power to remove books from the schools and libraries they oversee.

Nashville Public Library: This Southern library protested banned books this year with a limited edition library card with the special message: "I read banned books." The bright yellow cards are part of the library's Freedom to Read campaign celebrating the "right to read."

Some of them, no matter how old they are, continue to be targeted, even in the past decade. A meme citing a number of classics claims that "These are the most banned books from public libraries and schools in the U.S."

The list, while presenting a number of classics that have indeed either been banned or faced challenges over the course of American history, does not accurately portray the complete story. Some of the books are indeed still among the top banned books in the U.S. today, while some faced more controversy decades ago. The list also does not specify the time period during which these books were banned.

We went through the list one by one, using information gathered from the American Library Association's (ALA) Office of Intellectual Freedom that compiles "reports from libraries, schools, and the media on attempts to ban books in communities across the country." The ALA's work also includes compiling "lists of challenged books in order to inform the public about censorship efforts that affect libraries and schools."

Vonnegut's book made it to number 67 of the "100 most frequently challenged books" from 1990 to 1999, and number 46 from 2000 to 2009. A 2011 Atlantic report described how the book was a frequent target of bans or challenges from schools that found its contents to be vulgar, "anti-American," and more. Interestingly, the book did not make the 2010 to 2019 list, making it seem that views on the book have evolved in some cases.

It didn't make the "Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books'' list from 2010-2019, but did get banned and faced challenges in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. It was even banned in 2002 in schools in the United Arab Emirates.

It didn't make any recent lists, including the "Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books'' list from 2010-2019, or even in the 1990s. But according to the San Francisco Public Library it caused "moralist outrage" in 1852, and one school district called the book "pornographic and obscene" in 1977. The National Coalition Against Censorship Wiki claims it was banned by Nicholas I in Russia that year, and criticized in the U.S. for promoting "bad morals." Given that all of the books in the meme faced both challenges and bans over a period of time, but some of them were not featured on the ALA's more recent lists, we rate this claim a "Mixture."

This is the list of the most banned books in the 2021-2022 school year, according to the PEN America Index of School Book Bans. For more on what kinds of bans are happening and where, see the full Banned in the USA report.

This movement to ban books is deeply undemocratic, in that it often seeks to impose restrictions on all students and families based on the preferences of those calling for the bans and notwithstanding polls that consistently show that Americans of all political persuasions oppose book bans. And it is having multifaceted, harmful impacts: on students who have a right to access a diverse range of stories and perspectives, and especially on those from historically marginalized backgrounds who are watching their library shelves emptied of books that reflect and speak to them; on educators and librarians who are operating in some states in an increasingly punitive and surveillance-oriented environment with a chilling effect on teaching and learning; on the authors whose works are being targeted; and on parents who want to raise students in schools that remain open to curiosity, discovery, and the freedom to read.

These subject areas have long been the targets of censorship and been controversial from the perspective of age appropriateness, with standards and approaches varying from community to community about what is seen as the right age level for such material, as well as the degree to which these topics should be addressed in school as opposed to in the home. As book banning has resurged, some individuals and groups have sought to reignite debate about sexual content in books, and sexual education in schools generally. While debate on these issues recurs, wholesale bans on books deny young people the opportunity to learn, to get answers to pressing questions, and to obtain crucial information. At the same time, the efforts to target books containing LGBTQ+ characters or themes are frequently drawing on long-standing, denigrating stereotypes that suggest LGBTQ+ content is inherently sexual or pornographic.

Attendees of a Spotsylvania County, Va., School Board meeting raise and shake their hands in support of speakers criticizing the board for suggesting that sexually explicit books be banned at county schools on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. The meeting was held in the auditorium of Chancellor High School to accommodate the large crowd. (Peter Cihelka/The Free Lance-Star via AP)

The books on these lists are often framed as dangerous or harmful, and the lists have been used to quicken the pace of book banning, often in violation of or with disregard for established, neutral processes, with demands that all books on such lists be removed from schools immediately.

The other key implication of the organized nature of these banning campaigns is their ability to reach scale. Whereas traditional book challenges were one-off incidents, the current pattern of escalating, copycat banned book efforts across the country is a testament to the ability of campaigners to leverage tools and communications channels to push for censorship across the country. As their tactics and methods evolve, it stands to reason that a growing number of schools, communities, and legislatures will confront similar challenges.

PEN America reported in the first edition of Banned in the USA (April 2022) that book bans had occurred in 86 school districts in 26 states in the first nine months of the 2021-22 school year. With additional reporting, and looking at the 12-month school year, the Index now lists banned books in 138 school districts in 32 states. These districts include 5,049 schools with a combined enrollment of nearly 4 million students.

Under the plurality Supreme Court decision in Island Trees v. Pico, banning or restricting books in public schools for content- or viewpoint-specific reasons is unconstitutional. To safeguard these rights, the ALA and the NCAC have developed best practice guidelines for book reconsideration processes school districts can adopt concerning library materials and instructional materials for which review is requested, whether by a parent, other community member, administrator, or other source. As discussed at length in Banned in the USA, these guidelines are intended to ensure that challenges are addressed in consistent, reasoned, fact-based ways while protecting the First Amendment rights of students and citizens and guarding against censorship.

Dozens of people read books on the lawn of the Nampa School District office at the same time as a meeting takes place inside to determine the disposal of books on its banned books list on Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Nampa, Idaho. The Nampa school board voted last month to remove several books from its libraries. (Sarah A. Miller/Idaho Statesman via AP)

As noted previously, the resulting harm is widespread, affecting pedagogy and intellectual freedom and placing limits on the professional autonomy of school librarians and teachers. The repercussions extend further, however, to the well-being of the students affected by these bans. Children deserve to see themselves in books, and they deserve access to a diversity of stories and perspectives that help them understand and navigate the world around them. Public schools that ban books reflecting diverse identities risk creating an environment in which students feel excluded, with potentially profound effects on how students learn and become informed citizens in a pluralistic and diverse society.


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