Oct 27, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Survey: Majority oppose book bans, back Bible electives classes

Educator Nancy St. Leger, left, and author Rebekah Shoaf, right, check some of the banned books displayed during the "Freadom" kickoff event at Books and Books in on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023 in Coral Gables, Florida.

Educator Nancy St. Leger, left, and author Rebekah Shoaf, right, check some of the banned books displayed during the "Freadom" kickoff event at Books and Books on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Coral Gables, Fla. Photo: Carl Juste/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Nearly nine of 10 Americans oppose banning books that include depictions of slavery from being taught in public schools, but a majority feel public schools should offer Christian Bible courses as electives, a new survey finds.

Why it matters: The data indicates that public attitudes are defying a movement that began three years ago by conservative-led organizations to remove books discussing racism across the nation.

  • The wide-ranging report was led by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and Brookings Institution.

By the numbers: About 88% of Americans oppose banning books that tackle issues around slavery from being taught in public schools, the study found.

  • Fewer than one in ten Americans favor the banning of those books — percentages that surprisingly go across political lines.
  • About the same number of Republicans (7%), independents (7%), and Democrats (9%) support such bans.

Zoom out: About 84% of Americans also oppose banning public high school courses like AP African American History because the topics of slavery and segregation are likely to make white students feel guilty or uncomfortable.

  • And almost all Americans (94%) agree that "we should teach our children both the good and bad aspects of our history so that they can learn from the past."
  • Three-quarters of Americans (75%) agree that public school teachers and librarians deserve trust to design curricula and select books that portray "the good and bad of American history."

State of play: After former President Trump's 2020 election loss, more than two dozen states have passed laws or adopted policies that limit the discussion of race and gender under the guise of banning the graduate-school level critical race theory.

Reality check: CRT is seldom taught in public schools, especially grade school.

What they're saying: "This was somewhat of a surprise that such a big majority of Americans oppose these bans and want students to know the good and bad of history," Robert P. Jones, president and founder of PRRI, tells Axios.

  • He said it shows that Americans are willing to have difficult conversations about the past around race despite recent efforts by states to limit those conversations in public schools.

The intrigue: Scholastic apologized and reversed course this week on a recent decision to separate about 30 books on diverse topics in elementary school book fairs.

  • Scholastic's initial move was in response to legislation in more than 30 states that prohibited or would prohibit certain books from being in schools, but a backlash forced the company to reassess.

Yes, but: The same new survey found a majority of Americans (53%) favor offering elective courses on the Bible that are taught from a "Christian perspective" in public schools, compared with 43% who opposed them.

  • Republicans (73%) are notably more likely than independents (52%) and Democrats (38%) to favor offering elective Bible courses in public schools.

Don't forget: More Americans also are turning away from Christianity and are seeing themselves as unaffiliated with any religion or as religious "nones."

Methodology: The American Values Survey was conducted online between Aug. 25-30. The poll is based on a representative sample of 2,525 adults (age 18 and older) living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia who are part of Ipsos' Knowledge Panel®.

  • The margin of sampling error is +/- 2.19 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample.
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