AFT Resolution

On Books, Literacy and Intellectual Freedom

WHEREAS, books are the vessels in which we collect and share human knowledge and culture, and through which we educate new generations in the vast body of knowledge and culture that is their heritage; and

WHEREAS, in the mosaic of our diverse world, books open up vistas of mutual understanding, empathy and common purpose; and

WHEREAS, given the importance of books to our culture and society, the entire educational process rests on the foundation of literacy—teaching students to read and comprehend the written words of others and to communicate their own ideas in written form; and

WHEREAS, democracy itself depends upon literate citizens who can communicate and dialogue with each other on questions of public concern, distinguish factual reporting and reasoned commentary from propaganda and disinformation, make informed choices on who should govern them, and be knowledgeable about the actions of government; and

WHEREAS, in a democracy, the life blood of literate communication and of education is intellectual freedom—the free and unfettered access of all citizens and all students to ideas and information collected in books and other published writings; and

WHEREAS, authoritarian regimes invariably ban books and censor the written word to limit what their people can learn and to control their thinking and their communications; and

WHEREAS, the United States is now experiencing a wave of campaigns to ban books and censor the written word in our schools: The American Library Association reports that such efforts are increasing at an alarming rate and are now greater than any time since it began collecting data on them, with 330 known instances in the last quarter of 2021 alone; and

WHEREAS, these campaigns have targeted books that address issues of racism, homophobia, antisemitism and the experiences of marginalized communities, books such as Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s Beloved (a novel portraying the horrors of slavery) and Art Spiegelman’s Maus (a graphic novel about the Holocaust), both Pulitzer Prize-winning books; George Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue (a memoir of growing up as a queer Black boy); and Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story (about Bridges’ experiences integrating a New Orleans school); and

WHEREAS, these campaigns have ranged from demands that local school boards ban specific books, to proposed state legislation that would ban books that, for example, contain “material harmful to minors” (Indiana), “promote, normalize, support, or address lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender (LGBT) issues or lifestyles” (Tennessee), or cover themes of sexuality or gender identity (Oklahoma). (Similar legislation is pending in Iowa, Nebraska, New Mexico and South Dakota.); and

WHEREAS, as a result of these campaigns, books are known to have been banned and removed from schools in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming; and

WHEREAS, these campaigns have taken an ominous turn in unprecedented attacks by elected officials on librarians and teachers, such as the threats of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster to criminally prosecute school librarians and teachers who provide access to LGBTQ-themed books, and in proposed legislation in Indiana and Wyoming that would criminalize the inclusion of LGBTQ-themed books in school libraries and in classrooms; and

WHEREAS, these campaigns are part of an “ed scare” characterized by the imposition of “educational gag orders” that seek to limit the ability of schools and teachers to address issues of race, sex and sexual identity in our history, our culture and our society. These orders have had a chilling effect on the educational work of teachers at a time when they are laboring under the difficult conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic; and

WHEREAS, schools are most effective when parents and families are partners with teachers in the education of their children and have a meaningful voice in the educational process through such vehicles as parent associations, school leadership teams and elected school boards. While they claim to speak on behalf of parents, the campaigns to ban books actually trample on these democratic platforms for parent and family voice:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers affirms its abiding commitment to the intellectual freedom that lies at the heart of literacy, education and democracy, and opposes all campaigns to ban books and censor the written word in our libraries and schools; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will work with other organizations and unions defending intellectual freedom—the American Library Association, PEN America, the National Education Association, the Intellectual Freedom Center of the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Council of Social Studies, the American Association of School Librarians, the Banned Books Week organization, the Freedom to Read Foundation, and the Red, Wine and Blue network, among others—to oppose campaigns and legislation to ban books and censor the written word in our libraries and schools; and

RESOLVED, that, as a union of educational professionals, the AFT affirms that teachers and librarians have a professional duty and right to provide their students with developmentally appropriate and age-appropriate literature and nonfiction books and materials that develop their literacy skills, grow their knowledge and expand their intellectual horizons. These books should introduce students to experiences and cultures beyond their own and provide accounts of all American and world history, both the good and the bad; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will vigorously defend teacher and librarian members who are subject to disciplinary action, dismissal and/or criminal prosecution for performing their professional duty and exercising their right to provide students with developmentally appropriate and age-appropriate literature and nonfiction books; and

RESOLVED, that, as advocates of democratic voice for parents and families in the educational process, the AFT will promote and highlight partnerships of educators, parents and families, and students themselves, focused on high-quality preK-12 literacy and language arts instruction; and

RESOLVED, that, through its Reading Opens the World initiative, the AFT will provide the tools and resources that translate the science of reading into high-quality literacy and language arts learning for students: Teachers and other school staff will be provided with the curricular materials, pedagogical tools and professional development for effective classroom instruction; parents and families will be provided research-based guides on how to work with their children at home; and students will be provided with free books, to read and keep as their own. Reading Opens the World is designed to promote the love of reading in young people, preparing them to be literate citizens in our democracy who understand the importance of intellectual freedom—which is one of the best antidotes to the banning of books and censorship.

(Adopted February 24, 2022)