Mason expert says that book banning hurts students’ access to learning

Maoria Kirker
Maoria Kirker. Photo by Creative Services

Maoria Kirker, lead of the Teaching and Learning Team at George Mason University Libraries, answered questions about book banning, the benefits of a diverse curriculum, and issues pertaining to access to higher education.

This spring Kirker is teaching a section of the Honors College course, HNRS 260 Society and Community Engagement, on “Access Issues in American Education" this semester through.

What do you see going on across the country when it comes to book banning?

Book banning has a long history, not just in the United States, but throughout the world. While we see a national movement aimed at banning certain texts in schools and libraries today, books are continually challenged at local school boards and libraries. Challenges happen so frequently that the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom keeps track of the most challenged books each year. While new books appear on the list each year, there are some standards that are regularly challenged, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

What are the benefits of having diverse perspectives and characters in the K-12 curriculum?

Many K-12 students do not have the luxury of being able to travel beyond their local communities. Books help students learn about the vast world they may not be able to physically access. Stories help students build empathy. Diverse characters and points of view bring the world to life. Beyond building empathy for others, diverse perspective and characters help children think through history, ideas, and concepts from different angles. This is an essential skill for critical thinking, which serves students throughout their lifetime.

What are the detriments of limiting books and access to books?

Limiting access to books might solve one family’s concerns about their child reading a particular text, but it removes the opportunity from another child. Book banning has a ripple effect that impinges the rights of other readers. While families have the right to restrict their children from reading certain books, they can’t enforce that on other families. Banning books also has the potential to create significant gaps in knowledge for young learners. Whether it is a canonical classic or a new book that is banned, book banning and limiting access have the potential to leave students behind their peers.

How does standardized testing affect education and access to education?

Standardized testing is the de facto measurement of student learning in the United States. These tests often measure how well students take a test rather than their learning. If schools are under-resourced, then scores will likely suffer as well. In this way standardized tests do not reflect how much learning occurred.

Standardized tests like the SAT and ACT are gatekeeping tests that impact access to higher education. Scores often reflect students’ free time to study, access to tutors, and financial ability to take a test multiple times. We’re seeing a small, growing movement away from these college entry tests, but they still possess a lot of power in determining a student’s future. Mason has been notably SAT and ACT-optional for years, leading the way.

To reach Maoria Kirker, contact her at 

For more information, contact Anna Stolley Persky at


About George Mason 
George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls more than 39,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.