Public education struggles as book banning continues

OSWEGO,N.Y.–Public schools and district libraries across the country have had to remove many books as state governments have banned them. 

“There’s a national campaign to pull books off of not just school shelves but library bookshelves and it’s a reaction to the growing power of LGBTQ people and black Americans,” said Maureen Curtin, associate professor of English literature at SUNY Oswego. 

Schools and libraries across the country have grappled with legislation urging them to no longer allow students to have access to certain books. 

But Gov. Ron DeSatnis, of Florida, a state where the book banning debate has garnered most of the attention, stated there is no intention to ban books in Florida. 

“If there’s anything that any of these school, superintendents say are quote banned, produce that and our Department of Education will absolutely take a look at that, and I can guarantee you that unless it something that 99 percent of the people realize it’s wrong, chances are it’s not any type of issue,” said DeSantis at a press conference on Feb. 14.

 According to PEN America, a non-profit organization that defends free expression, Florida had the second highest number of books banned in the country during the 2021-2022 school year. Reported in EducationWeek, this is because of the restrictive laws in Florida that prohibit lessons in schools and state that they cannot address racism and race, gender and sexual identity, and must have school librarians remove books from schools that contain said content. 

In the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights it is made clear that all libraries in the United States should oppose censorship and it is their responsibility to provide the public with knowledge and information. This idea is something Sarah Weisman, library director at SUNY Oswego, strongly agrees with.

 “We want everybody to have an opportunity to make their own choices and have the freedom to read whatever they want to read,” said Weisman. 

At SUNY Oswego, Penfield Library has ensured that it carries all books covering a diversity of topics and viewpoints–even those that have been banned. 

“Particularly if it’s something that has been banned in their school district we want to make sure that we’ve got it so that students can have access to that book and make up their own mind on whether it’s something that they want to read or not,” said Weisman. 

The book banning debate has had a huge impact on students and teachers in areas affected by the issue of banning books. According to a bill passed in Florida, every book available to students through a school district library or included in a grade-level reading list has to be chosen by a school district employee who holds a valid educational media specialist certificate, regardless if the book is purchased, donated, or available to a student in another way. 

Students like Lauren Royce, a journalism major at SUNY Oswego, believe that Florida’s book banning criteria is going to be detrimental to the younger generations. 

“Florida’s criteria for book bans is really extreme and only allows for books featuring one type of person- straight, white and cisgender. This sends a message that a “perfect world” doesn’t include the real and full spectrum of humanity,” said Royce in an email. 

Meanwhile teachers are also being impacted tremendously by state governments determining what they can and cannot teach their students in their classrooms. 

“I know teachers at the college level in Florida and they are distraught and some of them, if they’re able, are planning to leave the state because they can’t do their jobs,” said Curtin. 

The book banning debate has also brought to light other problems within the American education system. An example being whether or not politics should be involved in public education. 

DeSantis says he does not support the idea of politics being interwoven into the public education system. 

“In Florida, we will ensure that taxpayer-funded higher ed institutions focus on pursuing the truth, promoting excellence, and providing students with a foundation so they can think for themselves, not to enforce ideological conformity and political activism,” wrote DeSantis on his Instagram page on Jan. 31. 

Yet some students, like Royce, believe that this issue is political at its core and that fundamental rights are at stake for students across the country as she stated in an email. 

“To me, banning literature is one of the warning signs that a country is beginning its descent into fascism. That, and it’s an insult to authors and publishers. It is unfair to students, who deserve to broaden their horizons. Banning books means banning free speech, so it’s unconstitutional if nothing else. It frightens me the direction we seem to be heading in.”

While others, like Curtin, think that a bigger issue will be students who wish to go to college out of state after attending public school in a state where books were banned. 

“He’s [Gov. DeSantis] going to have people graduate high school who are themselves uncomfortable with the truth and who know less and if they do want to go to college they may be at a disadvantage if they try to leave the state.”

Still, the book banning debate is not over, and continues to impact teachers and students across the country.