CoverIntroductionKey Civics and Government ConceptsDefining Critical Media LiteracyTopic 1. Foundations of the United States Political System1.1 Social Media Policies and Community Standards on YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and More1.2 The Internet as a Public Utility1.3  21st Century Women STEM Innovators1.4 Media Coverage of Kings, Queens, and Royal Families1.5 Representations of Native Americans in Films, Local History Publications, and School MascotsTopic 2. The Development of United States Government2.1 Declarations of Independence on Social Media2.2 Media Marketing and Government Regulation of Self-Driving Cars and Electric Vehicles2.3 Representations of and Racism Toward Black Americans in the Media2.4 Political Debates Through Songs from Hamilton: An American Musical2.5 Bill of Rights on TwitterTopic 3. Institutions of United States Government3.1: Hollywood Movies About the Branches of Government3.2: Writing an Impeachment Press Release3.3: Members of Congress' Use of Social Media3.4: Political Impacts of Public Opinion Polls3.5: Website Design for New Political PartiesTopic 4. The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens4.1: Immigration in the News4.2: Portrayals of Immigrants in Television and Film4.3: COVID-19 Information Evaluation4.4: Women Political Leaders in the Media4.5: Online Messaging by Special Interest Groups4.6: Digital Games for Civic Engagement4.7: Social Media and the Elections4.8: Images of Political Leaders and Political Power4.9: Media Spin in the Coverage of Political Debates4.10: Celebrities' Influence on Politics4.11: Political Activism Through Social Media4.12: Media Recruitment of Public Sector Workers4.13 Deciding What Books Students Read in School4.14: Images of Teachers and Teaching4.15: For Whom Is and Could Your School Be Named4.16: Representing Trans Identities4.17: Media Framing of the Events of January 6, 20214.18: Music as Protest Art4.19: PACs, Super PACs, and Unions in the Media4.20 Brands and PoliticsTopic 5. The Constitution, Amendments, and Supreme Court Decisions5.1: Prohibition in the Media5.2: The Equal Rights Amendment on Twitter and Other Social Media5.3: Civil War Era News Stories and Recruitment Advertisements5.4: Representations of Gender and Race on U.S. Currency5.5: The Equality Act on Twitter5.6: Reading Supreme Court Dissents Aloud5.7: Television Cameras in CourtroomsTopic 6. The Structure of State and Local Government6.1: Native American Mascots and Logos6.2: A Constitution for the Internet6.3: Military Recruitment and the Media6.4: Your Privacy on Social Media6.5: Pandemic Policy Information in the Media6.6: Gendered Language in Media Coverage of Women in Politics6.7: Gender-Neutral Marketing of Toys 6.8: Environmental Campaigns Using Social Media6.9: Trusted Messengers, the Media, and the Pandemic6.10: Online Campaigning for Political Office6.11: Advertising the Lottery Online and In Print6.12: Local Governments, Social Media and Digital Democracy6.13: Protecting the CommonsTopic 7. Freedom of the Press and News/Media Literacy7.1: Press Freedom in the United States and the World7.2: Objectivity and Reporting the News from All Sides7.3: Investigative Journalism and Social Change7.4: News Photographs & Newspaper Design7.5: How Reporters Report Events7.6: Recommendation Algorithms on Social Media Platforms7.7: YouTube Content Creators7.8: Fake News Investigation and Evaluation7.9: Paywalls and Access to Online News7.10: Critical Visual Analysis of Online and Print Media7.11: Memes and TikToks as Political Cartoons7.12: Women Reporters in the Movies7.13: Design a 21st Century Indie Bookstore 7.14: Greenwashing and the Media

4.13 Deciding What Books Students Read in School

Who decides what books students can read in school? This question has emerged as a hotly debated political issue at local, state, and national levels.

Beginning in 2021- 2022, multiple states (including Texas, Arizona, and Nebraska) and numerous school districts across the country have passed laws mandating parent or family involvement in selecting what books young learners can read at school (Students Lose Access to Books Amid ‘State-Sponsored Purging of Ideas’, The Washington Post, August 17, 2022).

The organization Pen America found 2,532 instances of bans on 1,648 titles between July 2021 and June 2022; an interactive map of book bans is included in their report: "Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools" (2022). 

In some cases, parents receive an email notification when their child checks out a book from the school library or when a parental sign-off is required. In other cases, parents have been given power to restrict or remove books from a school, particularly those that deal with race, gender, and identity topics (Legislation of Concern, everylibrary, 2022). In some places, students cannot select a book from entire sections of a library.

Proponents argue that book control legislation increases family and parent involvement in children’s education. Parents, they argue, have a right to make reading content choices for their children.

Opponents regard book regulation rules as state-sponsored censorship of ideas for political purposes. Libraries exist, they say, to promote choice and the free flow of competing ideas. Blocking access dramatically curtails learning for students.

Books in shopping carts in a library
"Books in a shopping cart in a library" by Jorge Royan is licensed under CC BY SA 3.0

How are books and other reading materials selected for your school library?

Traditionally, following long-standing policies and norms, school librarians, in consultation with teachers and school administrators, chose titles for a library. Librarians often rely on book reviews by national organizations such as the American Library Association, the National Council for the Social Studies, and the National Council of Teachers of English, as well as recommendations listed in statewide curriculum frameworks.

The latest round of book control legislation is drastically changing how these decisions are made. New groups are involved in either directly making decisions or pressuring those responsible for book choices. Natanson and Rozsa (2022) reported that some parent groups are authoring their own reviews of books, claiming professional reviews cannot be trusted.

On the other side of the issue, teens in Texas have formed Banned Book Clubs to ensure that students can read what they choose to read. In addition, there are also lawsuits under way to restore books that have been removed from local schools (Natanson and Rozsa, 2022).

In theory, under the nation's long tradition of local control of education, selecting books for school classrooms and libraries is a matter of democratic decision-making by local people. The idea is that people should decide how schools can best function in their communities. However, historically local control has resulted in grave inequities including racial segregation and gender inequalities. Supreme Court decisions (eg, Brown v. Board of Education) and federal legislation (eg. Americans with Disabilities Act) have sought to counteract (only somewhat successfully) longstanding discriminations against low-income communities and students of color.

If educational matters such as books in schools are to be decided locally, who decides? Teachers? Administrators? Political interest groups? State legislatures? Voters?

What roles should students have in choosing what they want to read in school?

How would you make decisions about what books and reading materials should be included in your school library?

Activity: Design a Digital Library for Your School

Additional Resources