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Professor talks about the rise in book challenges

School book protest
Tim Furman
Parents and civil rights and other organizations turned out Saturday to the Marriott Courtyard hotel in Des Plaines where the ultraconservative groups Awake Illinois and Moms for Liberty were holding a school board candidate training session.

Eight months into 2022, there were challenges to about 1,650 books in schools, universities and public libraries. That’s on track to top last year’s then-record number, according to an American Library Association report.

Illinois has seen its share of challenges, including in such suburbs as Barrington, Lake Forest, Wheaton and Downers Grove. Meanwhile, in Des Plaines this month, two extreme groups ran a training session for potential school board members. That drew a protest that included parents and representatives of civil rights groups and other organizations.

Challenged books include "Gender Queer: A Memoir" and the fiction works "Flamer" and "The Hate U Give", which features a girl facing systemic racism after her friend is murdered by police.

University of Illinois associate professor of Information Science Emily Knox is editor of the Journal of Intellectual Freedom and Privacy. She is author of tomes that include "Book Banning in 21st Century America."

Knox said she believes those who support the books should carry out training sessions, too.

“It is really important for kids to understand the world around them to understand themselves.”

She said she recognizes that some books may offer ideas that a parent opposes.

“But reading the books does not necessarily mean that your kids will come away …not having your values. You can take the time to talk to the kids about the books, but if you really don't want your kid to read the book, then your kid doesn't have to read the book. You should not take that right away from other parents who do want their kids to read the book,” Knox said.

She called the onslaught of challenges reactionary.

“I think it's impossible to look at this without thinking about the whole arc of our history and America. We're going through backlash politics right now, with the election of Donald Trump with the changes in who is an American.“

“It's really a reaction to the idea that we'll maybe gender isn't a binary…. What does it mean that one of our presidents was black?’’ she said.

“The reason why there is an increase right now is really due to social media. So there always have been groups of people who have challenged books. But of course, it's much easier to find those people now,” she said.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers, and covering the equity beat. Maureen joined the Illinois Issues in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.
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