A Turning Point for Pennsylvania's Book Bans - National Council of Teachers of English
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A Turning Point for Pennsylvania’s Book Bans

The National Coalition Against Censorship’s Student Advocates for Speech program was created in 2022 to provide participants with virtual advocacy training, opportunities to engage in national dialogues, and find outlets to amplify their voices. For the past two years, NCTE has worked in close partnership with NCAC on a project for student advocates to write op-eds about censorship issues that have particular meaning to them. For the next six weeks, these op-eds, written by students in the fall of 2023, will be featured here on the Literacy & NCTE blog. Student voices are often left out of conversations about policy, legislation, censorship, and access to a diverse and expansive education. NCTE and NCAC are proud to feature them here.


This blog post was written by Riley Lepley, an eleventh-grade student in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

As a longtime reader and current high school student, the rise of book bans in Pennsylvania as well as across the country is alarming. At my own school, our library is abundant with diverse titles and challenging reads. However, this is becoming a delicacy as districts like Central York led the nation in the number of bans made in libraries last year. In fact, in the 2022–2023 school year Pennsylvania was one of the top five states in amount of book bans according to PEN America. Unfortunately, book bans don’t just ban titles from shelves, they ban the meaningful connections made, and perspectives gained by students who could have read them. Book bans inhibit free speech, and most importantly, our ability to connect with others and build strong communities.

Books commonly banned, such as Gender Queer: A Memoir, are powerful tools to allow those without support for their identities to find empowerment. According to PEN America’s2023 Banned Books Update: Banned in the USA,” “Overwhelmingly, book banners continue to target stories by and about people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. In this six-month period, 30% of the unique titles banned are books about race, racism, or feature characters of color. Meanwhile, 26% of unique titles banned have LGBTQ+ characters or themes.” When ambiguous book bans are made to target these communities, those individuals lack support that can be found in banned pages. Rudine Sims Bishop from The Ohio State University thinks books should act as a mirror, reflecting and building our community, free from book bans. Communities grow stronger by uplifting all members, and by refusing to deny representation in libraries.

Additionally, full shelves encourage open-mindedness. Ask any high school student and they’ll likely share that it’s not scary to experience a character different from themselves and find a new perspective. Fiction books in particular can challenge readers to think critically. In Scientific American Julianne Chiaet writes, “The characters disrupt reader expectations, undermining prejudices and stereotypes. They support and teach us values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves.” My peers and I are hungry for the ability to explore identities for a more holistic understanding of ourselves and others—an understanding that makes us kinder.

So, if book bans are so harmful, why do parents and community members challenge books at all? Most book bans are made from a concentrated group. In fact, a 2022 poll commissioned by the American Library Association (ALA) found that over 70% of parents oppose book banning. With patience, love, and empathy we can recognize the futility of banning books, as it only drives us farther apart. Reading other stories and narratives provides a cognitive exercise to increase understanding.

Students understand the disconnect that book bans can cause and the silencing they are capable of achieving. It is students who are asking parents, schools, and legislators to care about putting an end to book bans. However, a community built on the fear of those different from oneself will not only affect students. Whoever you are, reach out to your senate and house representatives to voice your favor of legislation that protects the student’s right to read.



I run cross country and track and field, as well as participate in my school’s speech team. I am very excited to help teens find their voice. I hope the principles of free expression that will be practiced by students are able to transcend into the surrounding community.



It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.