Efforts to ban books in the United States have surged at a rate the American Library Association calls “unprecedented,” with attempts currently at their highest level since the organization began tracking them 20 years ago.

A few high-profile examples: In January, a Tennessee county school board voted unanimously to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Maus from eighth grade lessons on the Holocaust. Last fall, Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin made book banning a focal point of his successful 2021 campaign, targeting Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved. And Texas legislators recently passed HB 3979, which bans the teaching of any materials that could result in “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.”

Jennifer Wolf, a senior lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE), teaches courses in young adult literature, including a class on the genre for undergraduates interested in teaching or working with adolescents. She is also the director of undergraduate programs at the GSE (UP@GSE), which hosted a teach-in on book banning this spring.

Here, Wolf discusses how approaches to book banning have changed over the years, teachers’ responsibility to students when challenges arise, and the now-prominent role parents play in pushing for books to be removed from schools:

Q: How do the current book challenges compare with efforts from the past?
A: I think for many of us, the history of book banning brings to mind some of the images of Nazi book burnings of the 1930s, which was fictionalized a couple of decades later in Fahrenheit 451. In fictionalizing the practice, I think we’ve allowed ourselves to think it’s something that couldn’t happen again, and yet folks who are really committed to book banning right now are using a lot of the same strategies that we saw in the past.

One thing that’s interesting and different is that, when the Nazis instigated book banning as part of their political agenda, they included young people in the role of finding and burning books. Students were given the job of finding books that fit the criteria set by the Nazis—there weren’t lists of titles like there are now, there were qualities or types of books. And students were in charge of finding those books and leading the whole ritual of burning the books in public. I’m sure it was a pretty enticing handover, to invite young people to lead this very dramatic ritual.

Read the full article about book bans by Carrie Spector at Futurity.