The Ed Scare is a nationwide effort, documented by PEN America, to foment anger and anxiety about public education; to restrict or prohibit instruction about race, sexuality, and gender; and to ban books that address these topics. Taken as a whole, it is a multi-faceted campaign to chill the freedom to read, learn, and think in public education through legislation and intimidation.

What is the Ed Scare? And More Frequently Asked Questions

What is a book ban?

PEN America defines school book bans as instances where students’ access to books in school libraries and classrooms in the United States is restricted or diminished for either limited or indefinite periods of time.

For more information see our FAQ on Book Bans.

What is an educational gag order?

Educational gag orders are legislative restrictions on the freedom to learn and teach – explicit prohibitions on educational speech. These include restrictions on “divisive concepts” related to race and so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bills, which prohibit instruction related to gender identity or sexual orientation. 

What is an educational intimidation bill?

Educational intimidation bills do not constitute direct forms of censorship or curricular prohibitions. But they facilitate the conditions for a chilled climate in public education, by radically expanding avenues for parents, government officials, and citizens to intervene curricular and extracurricular decisions in public K-12 schools.

They often include language about “parental rights” or “curriculum transparency.” Some bills in this category require the forced outing of LGBTQ+ students, and others facilitate book banning.

What rights should parents have when it comes to their children’s education?

Parents ought to be encouraged to engage with schools through regular channels of dialogue, including parent-teacher conferences, PTA meetings, discussions with school leadership, and speaking at school board meetings. Most school districts have a way for parents to raise objections about the appropriateness of instructional and library materials, and to have those concerns addressed through considered review processes by public schools and districts. But no parent ought to have the right to dictate or control what it is all children have the opportunity to read in schools.

What rights do students have?

Students have the right to access the books of their choice available to them within an educational setting. School libraries are places of voluntary inquiry, and efforts to restrict what information and ideas are available therein often entail efforts to suppress or censor particular viewpoints, stories, and histories. 

Students also have robust free speech protections, on and off school grounds. These rights include the right to protest. Finally, students have a moral right to learn about themselves, their fellow students, their society, and their history from a variety of perspectives. 

What is being censored in schools?

Recent book bans focus primarily on books about people of color and/or LGBTQ+ people, but bans also target art books and books about topics such as illness, domestic violence, sexual experiences (including sex ed), and divorce. Educational gag orders frequently restrict speech related to race and racism, but following HB 1557 in Florida, a rash of states have also passed restrictions on speech related to gender and sexual orientation.

A recent group of educational intimidation bills have created conditions for students to self-censor by forcing teachers to monitor their behavior and dress for perceived changes to sexual orientation and gender identity.