Positively Midlife Podcast

Challenging Censorship: A Conversation with PEN America's Kasey Meehan - Ep. 53

June 07, 2023 Season 2 Episode 53
Challenging Censorship: A Conversation with PEN America's Kasey Meehan - Ep. 53
Positively Midlife Podcast
More Info
Positively Midlife Podcast
Challenging Censorship: A Conversation with PEN America's Kasey Meehan - Ep. 53
Jun 07, 2023 Season 2 Episode 53

Are you aware of the alarming rise in censorship and book bans in the United States? This episode features an eye-opening conversation with Kasey Meehan, the Read Program Director at PEN America, who shares her insights on how her organization is fighting to protect free expression and access to diverse and inclusive literature for all. Join us as Kasey walks us through the challenges and trends in book banning, and how PEN America is leading the charge against this growing threat.

Kasey highlights the prevalence of book bans in states such as Florida, Texas, Missouri, Utah, South Carolina, and Michigan, revealing that a small but vocal minority is responsible for most book challenges across the country. We discuss the targeted censorship of best-selling authors like Jodi Picoult and books that tackle subjects such as gender identity, race and racism, and school shootings. Listen in as we explore some of the most commonly challenged books, including 13 Reasons Why and The Hate U Give, and examine the broader implications of this censorship trend.

As we uncover the magnitude of book banning and its impact on our society, we also discuss the crucial role organizations like PEN America play in pushing back against these bans. We emphasize the importance of preserving the First Amendment and student freedom to read, and encourage listeners to get involved and challenge the evil of censorship. Don't miss this vital conversation about the future of censorship and the collective vision we must create for a world that values free expression and access to literature.

For more information about PEN America or how to donate to their cause please go to their website https://pen.org/

Please support us with a monthly PATREON subscription and get a quarterly live  Q&A with Ellen and Tish.

Obsessions - Tish and Ellen are obsessed with PEN America and ask for you to donate at the link above. 

What we talk about in this episode:  First Amendment Rights, censorship, Jodi Piccolt, Amanda Gorman, PEN America, American Library Association, 13 Reasons Why, Judy Bloom, Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret, Forever, The Hate U Give, Jamie Gregory, Milk & Honey. 


Give us a review...
Click here

Want to start podcasting?  Click here to let Buzzsprout know we sent you, this gets you a $20 Amazon gift card if you sign up for a paid plan, and help support our show



Support the Show.

Website: www.thepositivelymidlifepodcast.com
Email: postivelymidlifepod@gmail.com

Positively Midlife Podcast +
Become a supporter of the show!
Starting at $3/month
Support
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Are you aware of the alarming rise in censorship and book bans in the United States? This episode features an eye-opening conversation with Kasey Meehan, the Read Program Director at PEN America, who shares her insights on how her organization is fighting to protect free expression and access to diverse and inclusive literature for all. Join us as Kasey walks us through the challenges and trends in book banning, and how PEN America is leading the charge against this growing threat.

Kasey highlights the prevalence of book bans in states such as Florida, Texas, Missouri, Utah, South Carolina, and Michigan, revealing that a small but vocal minority is responsible for most book challenges across the country. We discuss the targeted censorship of best-selling authors like Jodi Picoult and books that tackle subjects such as gender identity, race and racism, and school shootings. Listen in as we explore some of the most commonly challenged books, including 13 Reasons Why and The Hate U Give, and examine the broader implications of this censorship trend.

As we uncover the magnitude of book banning and its impact on our society, we also discuss the crucial role organizations like PEN America play in pushing back against these bans. We emphasize the importance of preserving the First Amendment and student freedom to read, and encourage listeners to get involved and challenge the evil of censorship. Don't miss this vital conversation about the future of censorship and the collective vision we must create for a world that values free expression and access to literature.

For more information about PEN America or how to donate to their cause please go to their website https://pen.org/

Please support us with a monthly PATREON subscription and get a quarterly live  Q&A with Ellen and Tish.

Obsessions - Tish and Ellen are obsessed with PEN America and ask for you to donate at the link above. 

What we talk about in this episode:  First Amendment Rights, censorship, Jodi Piccolt, Amanda Gorman, PEN America, American Library Association, 13 Reasons Why, Judy Bloom, Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret, Forever, The Hate U Give, Jamie Gregory, Milk & Honey. 


Give us a review...
Click here

Want to start podcasting?  Click here to let Buzzsprout know we sent you, this gets you a $20 Amazon gift card if you sign up for a paid plan, and help support our show



Support the Show.

Website: www.thepositivelymidlifepodcast.com
Email: postivelymidlifepod@gmail.com

Speaker 1:

I'll set. Today we're going to be talking with special guest Casey Nehan, and Casey is the Reed Program Director at Penn America, where she is leading the organization's initiatives to protect the right of students to freely access literature in schools. Many Americans may not be aware of the growing threat to free expression and the rapid acceleration of censorship in the United States.

Speaker 2:

You know, Tish, this is a concerning and growing issue here for us And Penn. America was founded back in 1922. And it's the largest international network with a mission to protect free expression in the United States and globally.

Speaker 1:

The word. the work of Penn is to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to express their ideas and their views through literature. Penn originally stood for poets, essayist and novelist Oh wow. And since then has expanded to a much broader definition of expression.

Speaker 2:

I liked learning that. I wondered what Penn stood for, and you know. the threat to free expression can be seen in the rise in censorship. according to the ALA, the American Library Association, and in 2022, they reported the highest number of attempted book bans that they have seen in more than 20 years. That's insane.

Speaker 1:

So, casey, is here today to share with us the latest list of banned books and to lend some insight into how Penn America is leading the fight against censorship. So welcome, Casey.

Speaker 2:

Welcome. Thank you for having me. We are so glad you're here with us today. Casey, could you tell us a little bit about your background and what it means for you to work at Penn America?

Speaker 3:

Sure. So I joined Penn America actually less than a year ago, so in October as the program director for Freedom to Read, and Freedom to Read is Penn's initiative focused on pushing back against book bans and also supporting writers and authors and poets sort of be able to creatively express and to share their stories and also ensuring that students have access to a diverse and inclusive range of stories as well. So that's where I am now, and before that I was an education policy researcher at a nonprofit in Philadelphia. So my lens to what we see happening is both through issues of free speech, but also through the lens of public education and wanting to ensure that our public education system is equitable and accessible to all. So it's a kind of an intersection of two pieces of my experience.

Speaker 1:

So, casey, are we accurate when we're talking about that? the book bans have been increasing each year, and can you give us a little insight into what is behind this trend?

Speaker 3:

Yeah. So yes, penn America started tracking instances of book bans in 2021, which is where we kind of track this current moment, this current movement of censoring books in public schools. And so, from 2021, prior to that, there has been moments in US history where we have seen kind of these flares of individuals challenging books or groups challenging books and looking to remove books from public access, either in libraries or schools. But what's unique about this current moment or movement is certainly that it's quite large. We're seeing thousands of books being challenged, being banned, we're seeing hundreds of book titles being removed from access in public schools, and it's really driven through a very well-coordinated effort of individuals, of groups. Now we see the role of legislation and government officials playing a role in declaring that some of these books are not appropriate for public schools, when, if you have a sense of these books, they were written exactly for young adults and for professionally identified and selected for inclusion in public schools.

Speaker 3:

But yeah, so this current movement is again driven a little bit by local actors, who are often ideologically driven to remove books that address certain topics or have specific identities in those books. And then, as well as this now kind of like high level involvement of legislation and government officials that are kind of empowering those local actors or aligning with those local actors to remove a similar set of books.

Speaker 2:

Casey. a quick question here is I hear about it all the time happening in Florida and the South, but is this happening more broadly across the United States?

Speaker 3:

Yes, yes and no. I mean I think certainly what's happening in Florida is extreme. It's a bit chronic in Florida. I think we see high instances of books being banned in Florida. We also see the most districts in any given state in Florida banning. So Florida has the highest number of districts across the state that have pulled books off their shelves. So that makes Florida is unique. But Texas also has actually a slightly higher instance of banning books. They just have fewer school districts that are doing the banning. But we also see states like Missouri and Utah and South Carolina and Michigan also having high instances of book bans.

Speaker 3:

And the one thing about our data collection at Penn America is we source our primary data. We track instances of bans through publicly available records. So this could be a district's website, it could be local journal news reporting, it could be public records requests that local parents or concerned citizens have requested and obtained. But our census that we're undercounting quite significantly what's happening just because districts may not be posting it publicly on their website for us to retrieve it. We may not have a parent who kind of has their ear towards what's happening and knows how to request the public records. We could have communities that maybe there isn't a ton of local journalism that's going to report on what's happening in the public school. So, although it's significant, we do have a sense that we're also undercounting.

Speaker 2:

Wow, tish and I, we read that one of the strategies used behind censoring books and to have them removed from schools and libraries is to include 100 or more books, just kind of inundate them with books and a single request What's the impact of this strategy?

Speaker 3:

The impact of this. I mean you're right, this is a strategy. I mean I think we've moved very far past the moments of the single parent challenging a single book based on a set of very specific objections, to now seeing these huge lists being submitted by challengers like individuals or groups, to districts. So you know, in across school districts in Florida we've seen, you know 20, 30, upwards of 100, you know book challenges being submitted And what that means for a district.

Speaker 3:

I mean, if they're following kind of like procedural best practice as defined by groups like the National Coalition Against Censorship or the American Library Association. you know what you would traditionally do is organize a review committee for each of these. So you would like you know the forms would be submitted. Maybe there's a conversation between the challenger and the educator, the media specialist or librarian first And then, if it continues, you know, to be challenged or injected to review. committees are formed And that review committee is maybe like five individuals educator, librarian, maybe a student, maybe a parent, maybe a, you know, a school or a district administrator And they would review the book and assess the book based on its merits and you know, reasons for including it in the school.

Speaker 3:

But you can imagine, once you have a list of even 10 books, to be able to organize a review committee of five individuals that they're gonna read each book, have a conversation, assess it for its merits and then make a decision. I mean the burden and the time and the you know sort of costs and capacity challenges that that puts on school districts is really immense. So what we see happening is, as you know, these huge lists are being provided. either book challenges are taking months, potentially a year, potentially several years, to go through these long lists in alignment with kind of best practice of having a review committee, or there's other ways that you know decisions are being made that move past kind of that procedural best practice of having a review committee. So it could be that the board votes or a district administrator makes a decision or the books are just, you know, removed. So there's lots of ways that you know the movement that we see it now and the way lists are being submitted in mass is really challenging our public schools.

Speaker 1:

So what surprised me so much was when I heard the testimony of Jamie Gregory and this was a recording from 2022, and she was a librarian of the year for the United States And she is from Greenville, South Carolina, And she did testimony in front of the state of South Carolina state legislature about how many of these requests to censor books were coming from small but very vocal minority. And they are not even necessarily connected with the local school system. They may not even live in the area, They are not parents of students. That was shocking to me. Are you seeing that happening all over?

Speaker 3:

Yes, the Washington Post even just released a like a news report that showed and I don't want to misstate this, but I'm pretty sure they showed that 11 individuals are behind, like most of the book challenges that we see across the country. So these are individuals that are individually submitting, you know, long lists in their particular community, in their school district, that are lending towards seeing many books removed from access for students. So this is not something that a majority of people want. I mean, I think we know that in polling, I think we know that even in just you know kind of like conversation with each other, that people do not want to see books removed from access for students in schools. But what is happening is a very small, very vocal group of individuals and groups are really driving so many of these removals.

Speaker 1:

I'm surprised. I just I want to just add something to that. I'm kind of surprised they're even entertaining any of these requests from outside of their district.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, oftentimes there is like a connection with like somebody, like it could be, but it doesn't have to be a parent, it could just, you know, it could be a citizen. but occasionally there are parents. There's even an instance of an English teacher who is behind, you know, submitting upwards of like 300 challenges in their school. But oftentimes they are, you know, kind of these minor, like these lone individuals that are, you know, raising alarm over books, that need not be raised alarm over.

Speaker 2:

Well, and I think that what they're counting on is the district just removing them because it's overwhelming to them Or because I don't know any district that can handle, you know, 100 books or 50 books doing the right procedures as you've outlined, casey, there's just two few resources, i think, in public schools right now. I do think that the requests though this you know group are really targeting members of the LGBT plus community and people of color and books around those themes. Do you see that happening nationwide?

Speaker 3:

Oh sure, yes, We do see this being driven through like a very narrow ideological lens. You know, overwhelmingly, books that are being challenged are books on LGBTQ plus identities or books by LGBTQ plus authors. They are books that include characters of color. We're talking about race and racism And increasingly sort of a growing trend we see, too, is the way that books that have any mention of any kind of sexual content are also being removed.

Speaker 3:

That this idea that you know sexual content in books could be harmful or obscene as well, as you know, kind of calling LGBTQ plus identities and themes and books on race and racism and featuring characters of color like umbrella, under the same rhetoric, that books are, you know, harmful, pornographic or obscene or indoctrinating youth or whatever kind of that very provocative language that's being used to call books. But yes, but they overwhelmingly do target, you know, certain types of books and certain books that have, you know, specific identities that are being that, we should note, have historically been underrepresented from public schools in general. Now we see more intentional effort from public schools to diversify books, to include more books that are representative of their students, and you know those are the books that are really under threat here.

Speaker 1:

So, Casey, I think it could really help our listeners. Can you tell us a specific story regarding author Jodi Piccalt, who has been targeted for censorship quite aggressively And because many people may be familiar with her books, can you kind of speak to that particular author?

Speaker 3:

Sure, yeah. So Jodi Pico, we see, you know, challenged across several districts and many of her books have been challenged over the past. You know, 18 year and a half, 18 months. But just, you know, last year we saw in Florida or sorry, this this school year we saw in Florida of a response to legislation that was enacted last year that you know, often that sort of enforces a cataloging of all the available books that may be in school libraries, and the way it was interpreted. We also saw this applied to, like classroom libraries too.

Speaker 3:

So there was an, there was a directive from the Florida Department of Ed that said, you know, kind of err on the side of caution. Catalog your books, make sure that there's a publicly available list of all the books that you're offering to students. And within that there was one school district in the state that announced the removal of 92 books out of compliance with that piece of legislation. 20 of those books were written by bestselling author Jodi Pico. And you know, i think that there was one particular book from Jodi Pico, 19 minutes. That is about a school shooting.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, this was one of the books that was banned, and I think you know we've heard Jodi Pico talk about this openly, because you know there's there's like this. I don't. it's like you know, the books that we see most often kind of censored in the books that are typically on kind of like the most banned book lists, are these books that are real reflections of what many of our young people are facing today right whether that's like exploring gender identity, whether it's navigating race and racism in current society And or, in Jodi's case, it was about a school shooting, right, and these are like very real concerns that many

Speaker 3:

students have had to one live through to like you know, kind of like prepare for, and you know, it's just, and so this idea that we would censor what could be a very real experience and a very real concern for so many students and parents in our country is it was. It's just, you know, in some ways it's like, it's like makes your head hurt, right.

Speaker 3:

You're like, yeah, i wish you'd censoring these books that are such resources and are telling, kind of like speaking to the truth of today. So yeah, so I think you know we often, so you know that's just one example. But Jodi, jodi's books we've seen, you know, pulled from several, several school districts across the country.

Speaker 2:

You know. So we talk about gender, we talk about race, we talk about books that have real and true experiences or facing fears of our kids, like school shootings. Are there any other books under attack on these current lists? I mean, i think we also said sexuality right, sex and sexual experiences, anything else?

Speaker 3:

You know, yeah, i mean I think you know there's been some. I think that last piece is something that we see, you know, growing more and more around, just like books that kind of touch on things that make people uncomfortable, like it's very like overreaching, like are we just going to remove anything that has, you know, pain or suffering or you know like tragedy in the books? And you know this idea that we could like keep, you know students from reading about those books, when you know there's so much it's part of kind of one's human experience to go through tragedy, unfortunately, but that's just, that is kind of life. So anyway, so we do see that more and more happening. I mean I think you touched on some of the bigger themes right Around, you know, sexual identity, gender identity, race and racism.

Speaker 3:

The most banned books of this school year so far really represent kind of that. We see genderqueer, flamer tricks, the handmade sale, but the graphic novel version sold and push This book is gay Milk and Honey, which is by Rupi Carr, which is a series of poems, and the poems speak to a sexual assault that the author had gone through. So you know, again, it's this idea that where books can be so illuminating and such a resource is for individuals who may be going through something or who may know somebody who's going through something, that that these are the books that are being pulled.

Speaker 2:

Right, and I know we were just chatting about Amanda Gorman's poem, a book of her poetry. I think as well It was pushed from primary school to middle school, or was it banned completely?

Speaker 3:

You're right. Yeah, so it was previously available on like in the elementary school library and then was kind of restricted to a middle school library section. So is it banned entirely? no, i do think there was like added stipulations that if an elementary schooler wanted to take a book out of the middle school section, that they would have to pass some sort of like literary test, which is the idea that we're having, you know, even like school library and spend their time kind of testing younger individuals is just wild.

Speaker 3:

And I think Amanda Gorman I mean honestly the Hill We Climb is like such a rich example of this So many of us like watched it on a national stage right. I think that's why it kind of brought so many people into this conversation around bookbans, because it was on TV We all watched it.

Speaker 1:

It was on the news Right In a historic moment.

Speaker 3:

She was the first youth poet laureate. Yeah, she's a woman of color, she was out of presidential inauguration, like there was so much to then think about. This book needs to be restricted from anybody's access. Really, it's just, yeah, it's just an overreach And I think we see, you know the way that Panamera will call kind of this moment like the, an ed scare.

Speaker 3:

So it's just a general kind of like culture and atmosphere and time where we see efforts to really suppress free speech And what happens locally by decision makers is when you operate in this like place of like fear and intimidation around speech, decision makers begin to like air on the side of exclusion, they begin to air on the side of caution rather than you know continuing to kind of make the case for inclusion of books and you know poems and other you know works in to be included and accessible for students. So my sense too is like that also is playing out, that you see these being challenged and people are more and more airing on the side of like restricting and removing and putting it away, because there's this kind of growing ed scare or chilling effect, which we like to say at Penn, that's happening, that's like spreading across the country.

Speaker 2:

It's amazing putting roadblocks to children to get books that they want to read, and especially we. I think all of us sat in awe listening to Amanda Gorman during that inauguration, so it's almost like it can happen to anyone, right? Any author it seems so far reaching. You know, one of my favorite authors from growing up, especially being from New Jersey, was Judy Bloom, and I understand she's still a target for censorship today.

Speaker 1:

And you know for me, we all read her books. Growing up, i think, And seriously, those tween years can be so awkward and you feel so isolated, and I know for me personally, reading her books made me feel like you know what I am. Okay, i'm not the only one feeling this way And I know that you know getting through that time. that is an author that truly helped me get through that time And she had a true impact on building, you know, my self confidence, and I know I'm not the only one. She is one of the most beloved authors that a lot of my contemporaries are talking about. That still impact their outlook on things. And to think that she is still targeted, i just don't understand.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, it's true. I mean I think the same district that banned Jodi Pico forever by Judy Bloom was also on that list as well, and we've seen, you know, that book in particular has been banned in forever by Judy Bloom, has been banned in Pennsylvania, has been banned in Texas, has been banned in Utah, has been, of course, banned in Florida, as I mentioned. So we do, you know and we do, and I think you know prior school semesters we saw. Are you there, got it to meet Margaret? Like you know, just books that, i agree, i went to.

Speaker 3:

I'll say I went to a Catholic school growing up where we did not talk. You know it was an abstinence only approach to sex education, and I can remember reading. Are you there, got it to meet Margaret? And you know just thinking about, you know it wasn't even like there wasn't that much that they were offering, but just the idea that, like people could have crushes and how you think about your own, you know, bodily development and all sorts of different things. I mean it was really, it was.

Speaker 3:

You know, had my mom, like it was, like I can remember that kind of like core memory of going to the library taking that out and reading it with my mom. So, yeah, i just it's. I I agree that Judy, and I think you know Judy Bloom has been through this wave of censorship. In the, you know she references back to the 80s where forever and many books were first kind of challenged in public schools and public libraries. And you know, to have this come back again, i think for an author who sat, you know, through it already, you know just is also, you know, both, like it's someone, enlightening to hear her speak but also alarming that these trends continue to repeat themselves.

Speaker 2:

Right, we're right back there. I have to say, growing up, my group of friends, we had a dog-eared paperback of forever that went around the circle, probably you know three or four times. I have no idea where it came from, but I think, as Tish said, Judy Bloom for our, our generation, was just really where most of us learned so many things that parents in the 70s and 80s did not really want to talk about.

Speaker 3:

Of course, i don't know how much that's different now too, right, i think Judy Bloom's books to me gives the are. So there's like so many parallels to the books that are being banned today. And the same way that Judy Bloom was filling a gap around what was and wasn't being discussed in the 70s and the 80s, you know, i think many of the books are doing the same. They're filling that gap of what isn't is not being, you know, discussed, either at home or in the classroom or wherever that that's that individuals are. All are still navigating. So I think, you know, i see kind of like the, the parallels between the you know, young adult novels of then and now and how they're. They tend to be the ones that are challenged.

Speaker 1:

So, casey, you and I had spoke before about the book and TV series. 13 reasons. Now that one is definitely a very controversial one. I know myself. I had watched the series on TV with my youngest son a few years ago And while it covered some really uncomfortable and serious topics, it also really helped facilitate for me some deep, meaningful conversations between my son and I where I could express to him my moral views on different things. And there was one scene in particular where the two main characters were in bed together And things were getting hot and heavy And she says stop. And he's confused And she starts screaming at him to get out, get out. And I can see my son's eyes are just huge watching this. And the minute he closes the door because he left, the main character leaves. the minute he closes the door, she says please don't go. And my young teen, his mind went boom. He goes. what just?

Speaker 2:

happened.

Speaker 1:

I don't know what happened And it really was a launching pad for me to have this conversation about. No is no And it's always no, and when it's no, don't let it go back to yes And it was. It is real, it is a real situation that is going to happen to young people And I appreciated having this, this, this movie or the books to start that conversation.

Speaker 1:

And I just don't understand why we want to take real life things like school shootings, like 13 reasons, and say pretend they're not happening, if we don't talk about it, it's not going to happen. Well, we all know that all these things are happening. So for me, i want to make sure that these things aren't censored, that these things are there for kids that are confused, and it starts conversations where we can talk through them. It was my job as a parent for his age to have the conversation with him, to watch or to read together with him, so I can have that conversation And I don't want these things banned in our schools. So can you kind of talk a little bit about anything that's really come up with this 13 reasons?

Speaker 3:

I mean, that's such a great reflection And I think again, this idea that there's a very small vocal group of actors that are calling books from Access for All. When you can speak to this experience so beautifully, about having an opportunity to have some really critical conversations with your child, And because there was a book, because the book became a show, because you're able to read it and watch it together, i think that is really powerful in itself. 13 reasons why yes, it has been banned. We've seen it banned in Pennsylvania, in South Carolina, in Utah, in Florida I'm thinking there are other places too, in Texas, in Michigan, and often for similar. For the reason that, for the whole, the value that the book puts out is that it's on suicide And then there's also instances of sex And these things can be again.

Speaker 3:

I think we just see books that are talking openly about mental health being pulled and being challenged, that have any sort of sex and sex content being pulled and being challenged, and that I think 13 reasons why is emblematic And it's also interesting to me too, is when books that are turned into very popular movie or TV series are also being challenged in their school libraries. I mean, the Hate U Give is another example of an amazing movie that came out of that book, and The Hate U Give has been one of the most banned books in school libraries. So again, it's like you know I don't want to say like the I think the books are like, so foundational. Everybody says you read the book before you watch the movie or the series.

Speaker 3:

So, the idea that these other, these other like modalities exist are amazing, but the idea that you would need to censor your students from, you know, reading the book is you know, it's just baffling. There are so many books that baffle me. I mean, some days we as a team we're all like, oh gosh, are we gonna? are we gonna stop being baffled?

Speaker 1:

I'm like no.

Speaker 3:

There's. there's a book called The Hate or the Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, which is so beautiful, and you know that's another book that we've seen really challenged and banned in so many different places. And again it's just a, you know, a young person who's just like. they don't even have sex in the book, they just are like thinking about it.

Speaker 2:

Now you can't even think about having sex as a team.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, yeah And like puzzle, what it would look like, or be like, yeah, so I mean this just all seems so fear based, right I? think that's a good assessment.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, i mean I guess I was wondering if you could give us kind of a you know what some parameters are the number of books censored or banned here in the US, and does it fluctuate a lot? I mean, i know you saw you said we have these things, ed scares or but is it more or less consistent?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, so we so, starting like 2021, that's what I can speak through Pan America does like six month reporting instances or like reporting periods, and since 2021, i mean, we have seen, you know, somewhat, it's somewhat consistent, but we have, you know, but it's also kind of like growing, but like per, let's say, like six month semester, we've seen at least 1000 instances, instances of bookbans, you know, across across the country. So you know, in total, you know, or let me just even say like sometimes I think I think about it in this way like between July and December of this school year so the first half of the current school year that we're in We saw nearly 1500 instances of books being banned. So this is like it could be the same book but across multiple districts. we counted the district level, so these many books are being pulled across districts. we see 1400, you know roughly books Within that. that's about 800 titles that were affected. So it's like 800 unique books, titles that are being removed from schools, and if we, you know, divide that by the six month reporting period, that's about 100 titles being removed from student access each month. So every month there's 100 unique books and that could be in the, you know it could be one copy of that book, it could be 20 copies of that book, it could be, you know, 100 copies of that book. any copy of that book in a given district, across you know the country, are being removed from access and I just think the magnitude of it is quite alarming.

Speaker 3:

And you know we have seen a growth across the semester to semester to semester. we're gearing up to have an end of the year report which would look at this entire school year. last school year we were just about like 2500 total instances of book bans. I think we're pacing probably more than that for this current school year. So we are seeing kind of just you know where where we keep thinking like is this are we going to see a fizzle? can we get the books back on the shelves? You know this year introduced legislation that advanced and kind of continued the trend around book banning. so you know I'm optimistic that there's lots of folks that are pushing back and there's ways that you know Pan American, other national organizations are raising an alarm and awareness about what's happening And you know, kind of the movement is quite persistent.

Speaker 2:

I think it's. The magnitude of this is even larger than I thought. Tish, how about you? I mean, this is shocking. It's all unique titles.

Speaker 1:

That's when I when I was out in California and we went to your book club and I was talking about this, i think the magnitude was hitting me, because in the south it's, it's you hear about it more, it's there seems to be more activism towards it. So it was something that I was aware of And it just frightened me, and so that's why I really wanted to do this. When I look at the other countries in the world that promote censorship I mean like North Korea, vietnam, iran, china I don't want to be in that grouping of countries that are promoting censorship, and I think parents need to. If you don't want your child to read something, take the book away, but don't take the book away from every child. I guess that's kind of more my stance. But, casey, do you feel that censorship is the same as freedom of speech, and does banning books violate the First Amendment?

Speaker 3:

So we actually pen America just recently put together filed suit against a school district in Florida, a scambia County public schools and those pen America as well as penguin random house, five authors that have been banned in a scambia public schools as well as two the school district, and part of that suit is saying that, yes, bookbans are violating First Amendment access to you know, ideas and knowledge and that we also see the way, particularly in this case, that the books that are being challenged are representing LGBTQ plus themes or are written by, you know, authors of color or have characters of color so there's also like a discriminatory case that's being made to.

Speaker 3:

So I think, i mean, i think we would say yes and when we think about students, which I will say are you know, i think we do our best to kind of center students in this conversation to, but often, you know, they're not always centered in this like we think we hear a lot about parents rights and what you know, what should and should not be, kind of the parents role in public education and sometimes, you know, you lose sight a little bit of students, right, but when we think about a student's freedom to read, you know it's not necessarily there hasn't been a ton of like precedented First Amendment case around, kind of like a parent rights in this, you know.

Speaker 3:

But what we tend to think about a student's freedom to read is the ability to, you know, access, a diverse set of views and stories and identities, that students have that access and that school library serve that educational process for students and that those knowledge, you know, those bits of knowledge and ideas and identities available, and that you know there isn't a school library that's that's built based on a personal and political ideology, right, that it's, that it's included, that it's a school library for all the students that are being served in that district. So we see book bands, you know, certainly impeding a student's freedom to read, certainly challenging, you know, kind of like the Democratic, like core of public schools and public school libraries and the type of, you know, books and knowledge and ideas that are, you know, available for students in those schools.

Speaker 2:

And really who we are as a nation. Right, i love that you said school libraries are for all students. I think that is the core of what this is all about.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, So we want to create this call to action, a call for listeners to really get involved. And, as the words of Edmund Burke kind of ring in my head, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. I think it's time for us to do something right.

Speaker 2:

Yes, yes, and as book lovers And as as literature has played such a big part in my life and I know is in tissues We have four ideas for our listeners, and I think it's it's true. We need to give people some calls to action. And then we want to send letters to local, state and federal representatives letting them know you're against censorship, and we are going to provide a sample letter you can use on our website.

Speaker 1:

And the idea is to host a book party. You know, purchase Jodi's book, the most man book, 19 minutes and get your book club, or you're just your girl. Tribe to read this and talk about this riveting story about the devastating aftermath of a small town after a tragic school shooting.

Speaker 2:

I have not read it, but I am definitely going to pick it up and we'll put a link to that on the on our website to and in the show notes. I think the third thing you can do is go see Judy Bloom's movie. Are You There Got It's Me, margaret. I already did this with my girl tribe. It was so fun and took me right back to growing up in New Jersey. You know, judy Bloom is really the most beloved author from my childhood and, as we've talked about, still a target of censorship.

Speaker 1:

And the fourth way you can really show your support is by donating to organizations like Pan America to show your support for their great work, or seek out a local chapter and see you know for volunteerism. Casey, will you be able to provide us some links that we can share with our listeners and on our webpage as well, where people can contact you all? And yeah, that would be fantastic.

Speaker 2:

I know, Casey, we love to ask our guests just this last question, which is what is your superpower?

Speaker 3:

You didn't prepare me for this. What is my superpower? Also, let me just first add I love this list that you've come up with and thank you for sharing it. You know, i think my superpower I would say in this moment, in this particular conversation that we're having, is I. You know, i think I.

Speaker 3:

What I try to do is translate a little bit of like the you know the policy talk and the constitution talk and you know the ideals and principles of free speech, talk in a way that's like accessible and has meaning for all of us, because I really think it does, and I don't think it's just for a few who are, you know, scholarly or super interested in this, but the way in which it's affecting you know, kind of the whole, and whether you know whether you have a student in a public school system or not, whether you, you know, have a student who is, you know, identifies as an LGBTQ person, or you know whether you're a person of color, and you see, these are the books that are being censored.

Speaker 3:

I mean, i really think there's like there's a there's. you know, the superpower is in taking all the chaos and then beginning to like, translate it and talk about it in a way that does call and activate people to you know, to get involved, to read a book, to talk about it, to, you know, encourage friends, to combat the rhetoric that we see happening you know, to write a letter, to go to a school board meeting, all these things that you mentioned. At least, i hope that's what my superpower is at this moment.

Speaker 1:

I think that is your superpower, because I think you did. You translated it in very specifically, with very specific examples, so people can understand that you know what it does impact them. This isn't just something that is happening to I don't have school-aged children anymore, so it doesn't affect me, it affects everybody, it affects our freedom of expression. So I think that is your superpower. But, casey, any last pieces of advice to our listeners regarding this very volatile topic of censorship.

Speaker 3:

I mean, i think you're right And I think I'll just add too, like I really think it affects kind of the future And I sometimes find that you know this conversation, i know it's kind of labeled as like culture wars or you know, whatever kind of the umbrella is that we're talking about.

Speaker 3:

But in some ways, i really see this moment that we're sitting in and how we get out of it, really speaking to like where we want to go as a collective and how, like the future generations will you know the world that they'll receive, but also the world that they'll build, and how can we, you know, kind of come together to build out that collective, you know vision for where we are going as a country or as a people? So I'll just add, i mean I think it's amazing. Thank you for having me here, thank you for bringing this topic to your listeners And I just I appreciate you both. You know bringing and raising awareness to what's happening joining.

Fighting Book Bans and Censorship
Banning Books in US Schools
Censorship of Books and Authors
Book Censorship in Schools
The Magnitude of Book Banning
The Future of Censorship