Could Book Banning Spread to International Schools?

U.S.A. in the Book Banning Spotlight

In Virginia, a mother is petitioning the Board of Education to remove Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Beloved, from the A.P. English curriculum. She insists that revealing the horrors of slavery is upsetting and not appropriate for young adults.

In Kansas, a school district removed 29 books from its curriculum, claiming they contain material that might make students feel guilt simply because of their race (white) or sex (male). Award winners like Confessions of Nat Turner head the list of banned books, as does The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

In Texas, a school district informed teachers that if they include a book on the Holocaust, they must also provide a book with an “opposing” view. In December of 2021, Texas state representative Matt Krause further pushed for the banning of 850 books.

In South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster threatened to send police to seize offensive books. And possibly even arrest school librarians who have not yet removed banned books from shelves.

Banned Books share one thing in common — almost all have received universally recognized awards from respected literary organizations. For example: the Newberry Medal, Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award for Young People, American Library Association Best Young Adults Books, Barnes & Noble – Top 10 Best Books for Teens, and the California Book Award.

What’s being banned? Here’s an example:

Laurie Halse Anderson, whose books for young people have been challenged on numerous occasions, articulates the situation: By attacking these books, by attacking the authors, by attacking the subject matter, what they are doing is removing the possibility for conversation. You are laying the groundwork for increased bullying, disrespect, violence and attacks.

Advocates of book banning claim they are ‘protecting children.’ Fact is, it’s really about hiding the truth and rewriting a history of which the parents of students, grandparents and great-grandparents are the authors. It’s about discrimination, politics, conservatism, race, gender and anti-intellectualism. At a recent public school board meeting, a strong advocate for banning a specific book admitted he had not read the book.

Could book banning spread to International Schools offering a U.S. curriculum? It may seem unlikely, but so did the level at which parents, activists, school boards and lawmakers in America are currently challenging outstanding Young Adult and Children’s literature. What are your thoughts?

Comments? Please scroll down to participate in this ISR Discussion

24 thoughts on “Could Book Banning Spread to International Schools?

  1. Anyone who doubts my statement about Egypt above should type into Google this name: “Giulio Regeni.” That incident occurred while I lived in that country and it cast a pall over much of the expatriate community then living in the country.


  2. Our Grade 8 English book arrived in Saudi Arabia missing the section on the Holocaust. Removed by the censors. Yet the Grade 11 book with the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence arrived intact.


    1. Two questions: what is your point and does this actually surprise you? Obviously you didn’t do your research before going to KSA.


  3. Got this in the mail today. Looks like there is another serious epidemic in America besides COVID.

    Dear MoveOn member,

    Last week—just days after a Tennessee school board banned “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from being taught in schools—a church in the state held a book burning.1 Footage from the event shows hundreds of people gleefully tossing books deemed “demonic” into the fire.2

    Across the country, book bans have risen dramatically over the past year, led by far-right politicians intent on stopping kids from learning about race, sexual orientation, gender identity, different cultures, or even just an unbiased history of our country.

    It is a blatant, despicable attack on our freedoms and an attempt to control the minds of our kids.

    We cannot, and will not, let it happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The billions of people in these 3rd world countries suffering in poverty, unable to speak out against the injustices which hold them back through fear of imprisonment or worse would beg to differ with you on the above. Why do you think there is such huge demand for western-style international schools in these countries? Why do you think people give up everything they have in desperate attempts to seek refuge in 1st world countries?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was a director at a school in Indonesia. A parent brought a complaint to the board about a children’s book about a child with two dads. It basically said that he did certain activities with one dad and other activities with his other dad. Super sweet and nothing about sexuality. I was ready to go to bat to fight this issue when a board member asked if they supported me and the parent went to the Indonesian authorities could I explain my choice to the authorities? The truth was the Indonesian authorities are backwards in their thinking and logic has no place. Members of this site are aware of the ridiculous scandal at JIS. I asked the librarian to pull the book until the parent left the school.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A few years ago, a boy in elementary took home a library book that had a chatacter come out as gay. In Egypt homosexuality is illegal, so the parent, while not raving, did bring it to the attention of the school. For the next month every teacher was required to check a stack of books for ‘gay’ content. Then, while not required by Egyptian law, Romeo and Juliet was censored ‘just to be safe’. Schools are businesses and will do heinous things to protect their profits in the name of comforting to the host country standard.


    1. Homosexuality per se is not illegal in Egypt, but homosexuals are persecuted by the authorities for creating public “scandalous behavior,” which is against the law. Basically, they call any evidence of “same sex love” or “desire” as publicly scandalous.


  7. I think book banning often has the opposite effect. It publicizes the books and sends kids looking for them. Witness Maus which sold out quickly on Amazon.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m an international school librarian (10 years now in SEA, 3 schools, approx. 3500 students total), and I’ve had book challenges 3 times in 10 years (and none this year). Two were from other teachers at my school, and one from a parent. But the thing they all had in common? All Americans (from the U.S.). I’m an American as well, but this is a peculiar mindset that has insidiously spread throughout American society, where even educated people get caught up in it and think that they are being reasonable.

    The book titles were: Island of the Blue Dolphins (Newbery medal; objection: it mentions rape), Roller Girl (Newbery Honor; objection: two girls kiss), and Captain Underpants (NJ, OH state book awards; objection: it depicts authority figures in underwear).

    My admin (also Americans) supported the right to read and we kept all of these books. I only mention the nationality to show that: 1. It’s only Americans who seem to have any issue. 2. It’s not MOST Americans, but it is the most vocal ones. As the majority, please speak up when you see book challenges and thank your school librarian for defending intellectual freedom.

    Happy Reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am reading lots of comments about being sensitive to local norms, following laws, and that other countries “have it worse”.
      First, it’s not a competition on who’s worse. I have always respected cultural norms and the rights of each parent to select titles for their own child. Local parents, students and teachers have never had any issue with the books in the libraries I administer. It’s this American mindset that one parent isn’t content with limiting what their own child can read–they want to control what everyone else’s child reads too. *Everyone* should be upset that another parent in your school (just another PARENT, not the government or admin) is trying to limit your and your child’s right to intellectual freedom (going above and beyond what the librarian judges as culturally and age appropriate for the school community).

      School librarians are highly trained professionals with masters degrees in library science. They have been trained in children’s literature and collection development, and regularly attend PD to keep up with the latest research. Each parent knows their child best, and they SHOULD take an interest in what books their child is reading. Students and parents should also have a conversation with their school librarian on what themes are best for their child, and ask for appropriate book recommendations. But parent’s rights stop at their own child. Let other families decide for themselves what is best for them.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Are you talking about censorship or book banning, which is probably the most extreme? Although it’s getting worse in the US, at least they aren’t yet locking people up for years for voicing dissent. No one in the US has been subjected to a whipping for what they’ve written. Check Amnesty International, if you want more info. However, I know teachers and librarians who have lost their jobs or been demoted because of encouraging certain books disallowed by a country’s ministry.

    The issues and beliefs of US citizens regarding censorship are not really applicable overseas. Different countries have different policies per their Ministries of Education, and librarians employed by international schools had best adhere to the rules and parameters set by those countries. It’s likely your parents will not support your fight (unless you’re in a truly international school as opposed to an international school full of wealthy nationals).Western ideals don’t always translate well to foreign cultures and mindsets. It doesn’t mean that we can’t teach about censorship-we should. It doesn’t mean that we can’t encourage our students to be change agents in their own countries-we should. It just means that we’d be better off to respect the rules and norms of our hosts, rather than embroil our schools in a scandalous affair over a Western concept. Save the book banning fights for when and if you go back to the West.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For that reason, I really can’t understand how the IB curriculum can be effectively taught in those countries–especially the “Theory of Knowledge” course. It inevitably and inadvertently rubs up against the values of most of the nationals of those countries.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. As someone now in his 80’s, the Nazi-era photos of book-burning affected me then and still do. I don’t much care if the books are great, trashy, inspiring, depressing, “left,” “right,” or whatever. Over time, they will rise or fall on their own; we don’t need self-proclaimed censors to “protect” us. That said, it is correct and reasonable that concerned individuals express their enthusiasm and support – or horror and condemnation. As a very young reader, I found “Of Mice and Men” on my parents’ bookshelf. When I started to read it, they warned me that it wasn’t right for me, but did not stop me. I thoroughly enjoyed the story as I read about travelers, farms, friends, cowboys, rabbits, and so on. The ending caught me totally off guard, and really upset me, as my parents had anticipated. Nearly 75 years later, the book – and its filmed versions – remain favorites. Steinbeck’s depictions of multi-layered subjects – jealousy, vigilantism, love, friendship, homelessness, retardation, and more – have helped me throughout life. understand those issues better. Then, too, I “discovered” a new writer, whose works have always entertained as well as challenged me. Indeed, his “The Pastures of Heaven” showed me how to write a novel with seemingly disconnected tales… until I began to link the names and titles by which we are known. In closing, I have probably written too much and yet could write much more. Censorship and book burning are just plain stupid and anti-democratic. ###

    Liked by 1 person

  11. As deepsouthrefugee pointed out, each country determines what is “kosher” and what is not in their libraries. In Muslim countries, they edit out fairy tales like the three little pigs, because it is haram. UIsrael doesn’t exist but Palestine does, kissing in films is edited out, any media showing “explicit” sexual scenes is totally forbidden, etc. In the North america, obvious pornographyand mysognistic, racist,xenophobic content is generally not displayed in public or academic libraries, with rare exception and is closely regulated,supervised and censored with the exception of film.
    These parentally generated but incoherent censorships and bans are the first step towards an autocratic, religiously and socially motivated autocracy or worse still a theocracy, which is explicitly prohibited by their own constitution. the seperation of church and state is sacrosanct and must be maintained, but these anti-democratic forces don’t see it that way. The next step is the active censorship and punishment of media who don’t agree with these regressive parental demands. Once that happens true democracy is terminal.


    1. I’m happy to report that my school, in a predominantly Muslim country, has a very well stocked library that includes every book on the banned book list including several copies of Maus (required for AP Lang) and My Two Dads and Me. I am just saying this to remind people to not paint all Muslim countries with the same brush.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. There are so many practically schyzophrenic contradictions running through those societies. For example, their belly-dancing is found by many Westerners to be entirely salacious.


  12. Most countries don’t have insane people running their governments, so this thankfully isn’t an issue in most international schools. Obvious exceptions include China and the countries that have opposing views of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but if you teach at a school in a country like that you know what you’re in for before you fly across the border.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No, actually you don’t always; the heads of schools in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt, for example, lie at recruitment conferences about the animosity toward foreigners exhibited by many Muslims living in the Middle East.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The overwhelming majority of international schools are in China and the UAE. Those are the two largest markets by metrics.


  13. I’d argue that some international schools were waaay ahead of the curve on this one. In China, you’d better not have any atlases that show Taiwan as a sovereign state. In Lebanon, it is not Israel, it’s Palestine or Occupied Palestine. That said, I know of many international school librarians who defy these national policies. Others toe the line, and I can hardly blame them, especially if they were local hires who stand to lose much more than a job.

    Liked by 1 person

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