Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Exploring Public Opinion on Public School Book Bans

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The VCU Wilder School Office of Research and Outreach
May 6, 2024

In recent years, the removal or restriction of books from public school libraries—sometimes referred to as “book bans”—has sparked intense debate across the educational landscape, igniting discussions about censorship, intellectual freedom and the role of literature in shaping children’s educational experiences. From classic novels to contemporary works, various titles have found themselves at the center of controversy. These bans, often initiated by concerned parents, administrators or community members, raise important questions about the boundaries of educational content, the protection of diverse perspectives and the fundamental rights of students to access information and ideas. In exploring the complexities of public school book bans, we are faced with not only the immediate impacts on public school curriculums, but also the broader societal implications of restricting access to information within public school settings.

In order to get a better understanding of public perceptions of this practice in public schools, the January 2024 Wilder School Commonwealth Poll asked Virginians the following question:

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Within our public schools, any parent should be allowed to object to the presence of any book in a public school’s library and have that book removed.

Overall, 32 percent agreed with the statement (with 15 percent saying that they strongly agreed) and 65 percent disagreed (with 52 percent saying that they strongly disagreed). The remainder said that they were not sure, or chose not to answer the question.

This poll was conducted from December 28, 2023 to January 13, 2024. Telephone interviews were conducted in English via landline and cellphone, and the poll had a total sample size of 812 adults living in Virginia. Statistical results were weighted to reflect known demographic proportions in Virginia. A two-stage weighting procedure was used to weight this dual-frame sample by the demographic characteristics of gender, age, education, race, ethnicity, Hispanic origin, region of residence and personal phone use. The main geographic and demographic benchmarks were obtained from the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS). The poll had an overall margin of error of +/- 5.46 percentage points.

When we consider how those of different demographics responded to the question, we notice some important differences. Responses were split primarily by political party, with only eleven percent of Democrats agreeing that parents should be able to object to a book’s presence compared to 55 percent of Republicans and 23 percent of Independents. Those with higher levels of education and higher incomes were more likely to disagree, as were younger individuals and racial and ethnic minorities.

We can also consider the issue from a nationwide perspective. Data from multiple polls shows that the majority of Americans do not support public school book bans for a variety of reasons, including understanding the value of exposing students to a wide range of viewpoints, even those that may be uncomfortable or challenging. Those who do favor banning certain books in public schools tend to cite reasons such as shielding children from inappropriate content or controversial ideas. This segment of the population often notes the importance of parental rights and the need to maintain age-appropriate materials in educational settings.  In another nationwide poll, the majority of Americans (91 percent) said that school officials should consider a variety of sources (rather than a single or small group of parents) when making decisions related to school offerings.

In addition, attitudes towards public school book bans vary significantly across demographic lines. As was seen in the Wilder School Commonwealth Poll, younger adults were typically more likely to oppose book bans compared to older individuals. Additionally, political affiliation plays a significant role, with Republicans being more inclined to support bans on books and Democrats tending to advocate for broader inclusivity in educational materials.

As debates surrounding public school book bans continue, so does the tension between parental rights and intellectual freedom and exposure to new ideas. Whether advocating for greater parental oversight or making a case for the importance of diverse perspectives in public school education, one thing remains clear: navigating the complex landscape of censorship and academic freedom requires ongoing dialogue, a strong understanding of public opinion and thoughtful consideration of the values that shape our educational system and society as a whole.

Author: The Wilder School’s Center for Public Policy advances research and training that informs public policy and decisionmaking to improve our communities. Drawing on the wide-ranging expertise of Wilder School faculty, we provide services including leadership development and training, economic and policy impact analysis, survey insights and program evaluation to clients in governments, nonprofits, businesses and the public, across Virginia and beyond. Twitter: @VCUWilderSchool

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *