Public schools across the country are banning books at a frightening rate—but no state is infringing on academic freedom quite like Florida.
A new report from PEN America found that the number of public school book bans across the country increased by 33 percent in the 2022–23 school year, compared to the year before. Nearly half of those bans, or 40 percent, happened in Florida.
PEN America recorded 3,362 instances of books banned in the last academic year, with 1,406 of those cases in Florida. This was the first year that Florida bested Texas in this dubious competition, according to the organization, which has been tracking book bans since 2021.
Following Florida, the worst states in this field were Texas (625 bans), Missouri (333 bans), Utah (281 bans), and Pennsylvania (186 bans).
Predictably, an overwhelming number of the bans targeted books on race or racism (30 percent) or featured LGBTQ characters (also 30 percent). But in an equally troubling finding, PEN found that nearly half of all book bans dealt with violence or physical abuse. Many banned books also focused on health and well-being, or featured themes concerning grief or death.
“The toll of the book-banning movement is getting worse. More kids are losing access to books, more libraries are taking authors off the shelves, and opponents of free expression are pushing harder than ever to exert their power over students as a whole,” said Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of PEN America. “By depriving a rising generation of the freedom to read, these bans are eating away at the foundations of our democracy.”
PEN America also reported that 86 percent of the book bans happened in school districts near a prominent “parents’ rights” organization. The organization specifically tracked chapters of Moms for Liberty (which initially formed in Florida), Citizens Defending Freedom, and Parents’ Rights in Education.
It’s no surprise that Florida is leading the rest of the country in such draconian book bans. In addition to the heavy influence of Moms for Liberty in the state, Governor Ron DeSantis has made gutting academic liberties part of his personal brand—depriving students of the freedom to read under the guise of waging war on anything he deems “woke.”
This year alone, DeSantis has expanded the state’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law, banning classroom discussion on gender and sexual orientation from kindergarten through high school. He went to war with the College Board and successfully got it to water down its A.P. African American Studies curriculum, stripping entire course sections on Black Lives Matter, queer Black writers, and critical race theory. He defended new Education Department guidelines that require middle school students be taught that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” On the university level, he has banned diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, banned degrees in gender and studies and critical race theory, and limited what teachers can actually teach about race and gender.
Public schools in the state have followed suit. Florida school districts have banned books such as The Kite Runner, the Court of Thorns and Roses series, Little Rock Nine, and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Individual schools in Florida have also banned the Ruby Bridges movie, which shares the story of the first Black student to integrate her elementary school in New Orleans, and Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb, the poem read at Joe Biden’s inauguration. Some of these bans have been instigated by a single parental complaint.