I’ve visited a lot of schools as the founder of Girls Who Code. When we launched our afterschool clubs program in 2015, I went on tour, visiting our programs from the wealthiest zip codes in the country to the poorest pockets of America. Many of the students I met —a disproportionate number of them Black and brown—hailed from economically disadvantaged backgrounds; they had tattered textbooks, spotty wifi and—critically for a coding club—sparse, ancient computers.
It was my fear that these students would be left behind that led me to create a Girls Who Code book series: a collection of short novels (think: Babysitters Club), that would, even in the absence of computers, teach girls the principles of coding, and launch them on the path towards economic independence. Just as importantly, the books would feature a cast of young, female coders who looked like them: a diverse collection of courageous, compassionate, curious girls, eager to learn about technology and explore the world.
I know that there are girls in the Central York School District who would see themselves, and their own limitless opportunity, in these pages. That is, they would if they could: last year, the Girls Who Code book series was banned in their district.
[Editor’s note: For more information on what happened in the Central York District, read Gizmodo’s story: “Did a Pennsylvania School District Ban the Girls Who Code Books? The Answer Is Complicated.”]
Already, a brave group of students is on the case; they’ve successfully lobbied to get the books temporarily unbanned and are actively working to prevent them from being banned again—yet another example of children behaving like adults while adults behave like children. Still, this one ban represents a growing nationwide movement: last week, PEN America reported that over 1600 titles have been removed from shelves this past year alone. Around 20 percent of them discuss America’s legacy of racism. Some 40 percent of them feature characters of color; an additional 40 percent address LGBTQ+ themes.
Clearly, those leading the crusade—most notably, the ironically named “Moms for Liberty”—are attempting to rewrite history, and repress reality. But these book bans aren’t about books any more than anti-mask protests are about masks. The movement attempting to hijack public education is part of a decades-long strategy to reinforce a white supremacist patriarchy under the guise of “traditional family values”—values that are, in fact, anti-family.
This hypocrisy is nothing new; given the opportunity to cut the deepest child poverty rates in half, Republicans rebuffed it. They called universal daycare a “class war” and childcare “lefty social engineering.” Red states have the most abortion restrictions, but offer the fewest social services for mothers and children—what a coincidence that many of these states also boast large Black populations. Not only have right wing politicians failed to help families—their “victories” are actively harming children and limiting their fundamental freedoms.
They’ve taken away our kids’ right to self-expression, with state laws that prevent discussion of sexual identity. They’ve taken away their right to bodily autonomy, with states banning abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. They’ve taken away their right to feel safe at school, thanks to Republican Senators blocking meaningful action on gun legislation—instead insisting that guns don’t kill people, doors do.
And now, in banning books that open children’s minds to new people, new interests, and new career paths, right-wingers have taken away children’s right to the most essential, American thing: opportunity itself. Books empower children—and especially the most marginalized, underrepresented children among us—to learn about, and chase, down a better future.
All of these assaults are interconnected: whether it’s about preventing girls of color from learning about a lucrative career path, or queer kids from understanding who they truly are, those in power are desperate to keep anyone who threatens the status quo from obtaining the means to overturn it. But if Moms for Liberty are right about one thing, it’s this: us parents have the power, and the responsibility, to protect our children.
The good news is, sensible parents aren’t alone in the fight. The vast majority of Americans support comprehensive gun control. Most support abortion, affordable childcare, and paid family leave policies, too. When you survey moms in particular, as my organization Marshall Plan for Moms did last year, that bipartisan share grows even greater: 83 percent of responding mothers supported our policies, including 73 percent of those who identified themselves as conservative. And as for those book bans? Fully half of all voters believe that books should never be banned, with 75 percent saying that the prevention of book banning was important to them while voting, according to an EveryLibrary poll.
So, let’s make as much noise about these policies as the vocal minority driving them—at the polls, at protests, and at our local school boards. Let’s continue to write stories that haven’t been told, to help anyone who needs an abortion get one, to show up for one another when our government fails to. And let’s commit to teaching our kids about the diversity of the human experience, about our collective challenges and shared path to liberation, about their own limitless potential—even as those in power try to erase it.
Together, we can give right-wingers a taste of the only thing scarier than a self-assured pre-teen girl: her pissed off mother.
Reshma Saujani is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code.