In June, I wrote about an updated PEN America report that showed 1,477 instances of individual books banned, affecting 874 titles, in the first half of the 2022-2023 school year. PEN America has now released a new report that shines light on the broader topic of “educational intimidation,” and it’s even more disturbing.
As PEN America puts it: “Fear is the new watchword in public education.” In documenting a nationwide “Ed Scare” effort aimed at getting America angry and anxious about public education, PEN America has chronicled the rise of “educational intimidation bills,” which limit or bar teaching about race, sexuality, and gender while aiming to ban books that relate to these topics. Over the past three years, state legislatures across the United States have passed or introduced educational intimidation bills that achieve their goal by avoiding direct censorship in favor of a “chilled climate” by “radically expanding” the ways parents, government officials, and even other citizens may alter a school’s curriculum.
One common Republican wish list item that is particularly disturbing is requiring educators and administrators to report changes they detect to students’ gender identity and sexual orientation to their parents, placing a burden on these professionals that is both remarkably offensive and unusual. PEN America details the extent of the entire Ed Scare campaign in an Index of Educational Intimidation Bills, which accompanies the report.
From January 2021 through June 2023, 392 educational intimidation bills have been introduced, with 39 of them becoming law, according to the Index. In addition, many (“perhaps hundreds”) of local school districts are experimenting with intimidation ideas. As PEN America points out, even provisions that don’t contain extreme language can be interpreted or applied in ways that promote censorship. The percentage of anti-LGBTQ+ provisions, in particularly, have climbed at an alarming rate, from 14% in 2021 to 19% in 2022, before jumping to 45% in 2023.
Republicans brashly promote Ed Scare by falsely claiming it is about “parental rights.” However, as the report emphasizes, the reality is that these educational intimidation bills “actually disempower the majority of parents and empower an activist minority” to make decisions for everyone. This madness must end, and it’s one of many reasons why voting in the next election is critical.