What We're Reading: Shuttering Access to History Will Impoverish Us All

"Across the country, students and teachers are heading back to school. Eager to reconnect, they are also ready to learn new concepts, discover unexpected insights, and be challenged by complex ideas," said Elizabeth Alexander for TIME Magazine.

But not everyone in American lecture halls or library stacks this fall will be allowed to learn and read freely. Due to recent bills and legislative efforts throughout the U.S., half our states censor the teaching of race and gender in public colleges and K-12 schools – especially any teaching that examines them in the context of our collective history. At the same time, books are being banned at the highest rate in our country since the American Library Association first began documenting those numbers. For students entering college, five times as many books are being challenged as when they started high school.

What will we sacrifice as a country by letting these bans stand? We cannot navigate our multicultural American society if we are operating from myth and stereotype instead of fact and shared experience – and its democratic workings slow when the education our students are taught is inaccurate and incomplete.

The truth is worth fighting for – and we can all fight for it. Those in philanthropy or the private sector can fund programs in colleges, public lending spaces, and prisons that ensure expansive and unencumbered access to books, literacy, library and information resources, digital infrastructure, and original source materials. Those in government and education can strengthen academic freedom for teachers, scholars, and professors at public schools and institutions, nourishing the very fields of research and analysis that impart endangered information about our racial heritages, our gender identities, and our shared experience as many different people in one democratic society. Each of us can seek out and support the enduringly potent and wondrously manifold stories of this country by buying and reading banned books, including those by some of the most luminous authors in American literature, who reveal so much human insight through the written word. We can lean into the good, hard questions raised by disciplines like ethnic and gender studies, exploring the unique power and perspective of the multivocal American experience. We can push back against those working to bar our access to this rich and ever-expanding knowledge. Together, we can and we must challenge book bans and educational censorship.

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