Reading & Literacy

PEN America Receives $500,000 to Fight Book Bans

By Eesha Pendharkar — March 11, 2022 2 min read
Image of a girl selecting a book in the library.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A recent donation specifically to combat book bans will allow PEN America, a free-speech advocacy organization, to ramp up its efforts to fight the recent surge in district and state-level restrictions in schools.

Markus Dohle, the chief executive of Penguin Random House, will donate at least $500,000 to the nonprofit over the next five years in increments of $100,000 each year.

“Having this infusion of resources allows us to wage this battle forcefully to work with communities across the country,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. The group will use the money “to augment the staffing and expertise that we can put against this, and so it’s extremely important.”

PEN America has heard from students and educators across the country asking for help to fight challenges to students’ access to books, most of them written by and about people of color and LGBTQ people. It will be used to bolster staffing necessary to help these communities address the surge in bans, Nossel said.

More than 1,300 books have been banned over the last six months according to evidence PEN America has collected, Nossel said. That’s several times more than any book challenges or bans the organization has encountered so far.

Book bans are the most recent iteration of the backlash against equity and diversity efforts in schools, often mischaracterized as “critical race theory.” Nossel said book bans are a version of what she called “educational gag orders,” which are bans through state or local policy on curriculum dealing with topics such as race and racial justice and the history of slavery. Conservative lawmakers across the country are using book bans as a political tool, she said.

“I think it plays on the genuine concerns that parents have about what’s been happening in schools and the disruption to education during the pandemic,” Nossel said.

PEN America is fighting book bans by working with students, teachers and librarians in school districts where books are being challenged and helping them figure out how to fight the bans. Tipsheets the organization put together for students walk them through how to speak out against the bans, put pressure on local decisionmakers and report the bans to national groups such as the American Library Association. The organization also works with local districts on a case-by-case basis depending on the book ban situation in their school.

“The voices of students are incredibly effective,” she said. “Students speaking up for their own right to read—that’s a powerful demand when they make it on their own behalf, and so we try to elevate those voices.”

PEN America identifies key strategies in pushing back. One is pointing out that book bans can be a violation of free speech rights especially if a specific viewpoint is being censored. Another is informing the school community what the book being challenged is actually about. Often, people calling for the removal of a book from a library or curriculum object to a specific scene or character portrayal, which can be misrepresented, Nossel said.

“Very often, the book bans are based on a single image, a few lines without a contextualized understanding of what the book is even about,” she said.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Reading & Literacy Older Students Who Struggle to Read Hide in Plain Sight. What Teachers Can Do
Going back to basics may get to the root of the problem.
6 min read
Image of a seventh-grade student looking through books in her school library.
A seventh-grade student looks through books in her school library.
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages
Reading & Literacy The Key Parts of a 'Science of Reading' Transformation, According to One State Chief
Under Carey Wright's leadership, Mississippi pulled off a reading "miracle." She has a similar transformation in mind for Maryland.
6 min read
Dr. Carey Wright, the interim state superintendent for Maryland, discusses improving literacy instruction and achievement with Stephen Sawchuk, an assistant managing editor for Education Week, during the 2024 Leadership Symposium in Arlington, Va. on Friday, May 3, 2024.
Carey Wright, the state superintendent for Maryland, discusses improving literacy instruction and achievement during Education Week's Leadership Symposium in Arlington, Va., on May 3, 2024.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Reading & Literacy Teachers Are Still Teaching Older Students Basic Reading Skills, Survey Finds
Who across the K-12 spectrum engages frequently in activities that promote foundational reading skills? The answer may come as a surprise.
4 min read
Group of kids reading while sitting on the floor in the library
Zinkevych/iStock/Getty
Reading & Literacy Spotlight Spotlight on The Science of Reading in Practice
This Spotlight will help you analyze new curricula designed to build knowledge, review the benefits of reading aloud to students, and more.