By Ethan Wang
CHICAGO — Bans on literature have long plagued the United States and its policymaking. To this effect, Illinois lawmakers’ recent greenlighting of a bill to defund libraries that adopt book ban policies begs the question of why access to literature is so imperative.
The Illinois government’s policy to combat statewide bans on literature is a unique one, setting a precedent that is not visibly observed in other American states. An NBC Chicago report details how this policy stands out against others recently passed in states such as Missouri, Indiana and Louisiana.
The increasingly common laws which ban books from public libraries — especially in states that are more politically conservative — make it much easier for local libraries and educational institutions to exercise bans on materials of their choice. In organizations such as elementary schools, this is particularly alarming.
The aforementioned NBC report details the necessity of intellectual and creative freedom for school-aged children, which are being directly threatened by state acts that ban particular reading materials. These laws ultimately undermine the self-proclaimed purpose of “free” education and speech in America.
Book bans have been on the rise across the United States since 2021, but they became much more prevalent over the course of the past year. In particular, Florida governor Ron DeSantis has enacted three key pieces of legislation which headed and bolstered the sweeping statewide book bans.
DeSantis’s legislation includes the Stop WOKE Act, which “prohibits instruction that could make students feel guilty or responsible for the past actions of other members of their race.” Such legislation is especially harmful in the dissemination of literature which teaches young students about racial difference and discrimination, an essential component of elementary education.
Policy changes in Florida also have implications across the United States, as successful conservative law instatement against critical teachings from minority voices sets a dangerous precedent. With DeSantis’s acts comes the instigation of national efforts to suppress educational material that center such voices, or simply discuss the implications of discrimination, racism, and white supremacy.
Mike Simmons, senator and representative of Chicago’s seventh district, took a pronounced stance against book bans in a recent article. Simmons asserts the necessity of diverse literature and marked activity against book bans in the development of youth intellect and identity. As one of Illinois’ key policymakers, Simmons makes a case for the fervent efforts against the bans of literature that is dubbed offensive or ‘woke’ by right-wing efforts in the state and across the United States.
Illinois sets an important precedent, as scholarship continually indicates that banning books — especially those authored by and centering characters who are part of one or multiple minority groups — is a principally political effort with no proven benefit to children’s education. Ultimately, “[m]ost book bans are tied to anti-wokeness laws,” and are truly “about refusing to see the value in the perspectives of people on the margins.”
As 37 states still continue to institute book bans, it is imperative that legislators and community leaders alike work to repeal the active war on diverse literature. Employing curricula that teaches students to understand perspectives outside their worldview whilst developing empathy for their peers is an overlooked component of American education — and one that will dissipate if action is not taken to foster it.