The recent surge of book bans across the United States—driven by political debate over race, gender and sexuality—has not even spared the poem read at President Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2021.
Bob Graham Education Center, a K-8 school in Miami-Dade County, Florida removed Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” from its elementary school shelves after a parent filed a complaint on the grounds that it “is not educational” and contains “indirect hate messages.” The move, however, still allows middle-schoolers to access the book.
“I’m gutted,” the 25-year-old Gorman said in a statement posted on social media Tuesday, explaining that “robbing children of the chance to find their voices in literature is a violation of their right to free thought and free speech.”
It’s the latest effect of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ continuing crusade to reform the state’s public education system while making it easier to target books and study materials that discuss race, sex, gender, and diversity. In March, DeSantis denied that books are being banned, but free speech group PEN America claims at least 375 books have been struck off the shelves between July and December 2022.
“Book bans aren’t new,” Gorman says in her statement. “But they have been on the rise—according to the ALA, 40% more books were challenged in 2022 compared to 2021. What’s more, often all it takes to remove these works from our libraries and schools is a single objection.”
“What can we do? We must speak out and have our voices heard,” she added.
Parent-driven organization Florida Freedom to Read Project gave a record of the complaint, reportedly filed in March, to the Miami Herald—which first reported the story. Formal objections were also filed against four other book titles: “The ABCs of Black History,” “Cuban Kids,” “Countries in the News: Cuba,” and “Love to Langston.”
Records show that the complainant, Daily Salinas, mother of two students at Bob Graham, challenged the books for their content on critical race theory, gender ideology, “indirect hate messages” and “indoctrination.” Salinas told the Herald she “is not for eliminating or censoring books,” but calls for their content to be appropriate.
Bob Graham’s school materials review committee met on April 5 to discuss the books. According to the minutes, which the Florida Freedom to Read Project released, each book was reviewed. Four of the five titles, including Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” were deemed by the panel to be more appropriate for middle school students, while “Countries in the News: Cuba” will continue to stay in the Information Section.
A rising number of book challenges
Across the state, similar restrictions are happening. Tampa Bay Times reported that renowned American novelist Toni Morrison’s novel, “The Bluest Eye” returned to Pinellas County’s high school libraries in April after being banned in January. A parent filed a complaint to the school superintendent over a rape episode in the book.
In February, Martin County School District removed 80 books from their libraries for sexual and racial content, TCPalm reported. And last week, Penguin Random House—Gorman’s publisher, along with PEN America and other authors, filed a federal lawsuit against Escambia County School District for removing and restricting access to 10 other library books related to race or sexual identity.
PEN America’s tracker shows that beyond Florida, book bans have been most prevalent in Texas, Missouri, Utah, and South Carolina for this school year. Biden himself has spoken out against the bans running riot in many Republican states, even stating in a video announcing his 2024 presidential bid that “MAGA extremists” are threatening “bedrock freedoms.”
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