Georgia public school libraries increase book bans

Carson Bonner, Campus Carrier news editor

            Banning books is not a new concept, but the level of censorship within the public school system in recent months has been entirely unprecedented, with more than 1600 books being banned within the 2021-2022 school year. Topics such as sexual assault, racism, gender identity and sexual orientation have been deemed inappropriate topics to school libraries across the country. 138 counties in 32 states have been withdrawing those books from their schools and even public libraries. While some argue that these books are inappropriate for children and should not be part of the school curriculum, others argue that censorship is never the answer and that students should have the freedom to read and learn from a variety of perspectives.

The controversy surrounding banned books in Georgia schools began in 2013, when a parent in Brunswick, Georgia filed a complaint against a novel called “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie. The book, which tells the story of a Native American teenager growing up on a reservation, contains themes of racism, poverty and violence. The parent argued that the book contained vulgar and offensive language and was not appropriate for high school students. In response, the school board voted to ban the book from its high school curriculum. This decision sparked a wave of protests and petitions from students, teachers, and free speech advocates, who argued that the ban was a violation of students’ First Amendment rights and an attempt to censor diverse perspectives.

“Over the past few years, we’ve had some people asking us to reconsider having certain books on our shelves and we have a process and a policy for that,” Rome-Floyd County Library Collection Services Director Allison Robinson said.  “We’ve taken a look at those titles and decided they would stay on the shelves. We have a diverse community and as a library, our goal and purpose is to provide literature that appeals to everyone within that community.”

The process of banning books in Floyd County Schools has also been extended to potentially controversial books. Books that may have age-inappropriate material have been marked mature so that parents of middle and high school students have the opportunity to be notified if their child checks out a book or they can prevent their child from doing so. Books are reviewed on a case-by-case basis to decide if they should be removed. They are reviewed to see if they are age appropriate and educational and if they are not, they are removed from shelves.

In March of 2022, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed several educational bills allowing schools to ban books with what he called divisive concepts such as racism, gender identity, sex and sexuality. This bill also allows parents to call for the banning of books for virtually any reason. He said in a press release that this bill would allow parents to have a greater role in their children’s education and will make classrooms a more comfortable place for students. However, opponents of the bill argue that it would have a chilling effect on academic freedom and would stifle open discussions about race and other controversial topics. 

“Somehow when it’s in a book that centers Black or brown or nondominant experiences, it’s problematic, but it’s fine in the Bible or it’s fine in Shakespeare. It’s super incoherent,” author Ashley Hope Perez said in an interview with CNN. “It’s really about targeting groups that have only recently been able to get their stories told, rolling back that progress.”

The controversy over book banning in Georgia schools raises important questions about intellectual freedom, academic freedom, and the role of parents in their children’s education. While proponents of book banning argue that it is necessary to protect students from offensive or harmful material, opponents argue that it is a form of censorship that limits students’ exposure to diverse perspectives and ideas. As the debate continues, school districts and public libraries will have the opportunity to decide what sort of content they view as acceptable or inappropriate for readers.

“Reading is about learning just as much as it is about entertainment,” Robinson said. “Even if a book doesn’t align with your own personal views, it isn’t fair to keep another person in a diverse community from reading it.”

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