Girls Who Code founder speaks out after Pennsylvania school district bans her books: ‘This is about controlling women and it starts with controlling our girls’
Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani was enjoying a quiet Saturday morning with her two young children when a news alert hit her phone — her company’s book series had been placed on a list of banned books in schools.
The series, which chronicles a group of young girls and their adventures as part of a coding club at their school, was just added to PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans, a comprehensive, nationwide list of restricted literature that “was restricted or diminished for either limited or indefinite periods of time” during the most recently completed school year.
The index is updated annually by the organization, which advocates protecting free expression through the advancement of literature and human rights. Its most recent update reflected books banned during the period from July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022.
While the addition to the PEN America list was the first Saujani had heard of the restrictions to her organization’s books, the ban had been in effect in Pennsylvania’s Central York School District for a 10-month period that ended with its reversal in September 2021, a spokesperson for the school district said.
“I was just shocked,” Saujani told Insider. “This is about controlling women and it starts with controlling our girls and what info they have access to.”
She said she believed the move could have been part of a larger effort by Moms for Liberty, a conservative organization that advocates for parental rights in schools, including oversight of educational material.
After publication, Moms for Liberty told Insider, “Allegations that Moms for Liberty has worked to ban ‘Girls Who Code’ are completely false.”
The books were joined by other recent additions to the list — several of which tackle racial, women’s, and LGBTQ+ rights issues — including “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Speak,” and “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.”
“We use these stories to teach kids to code,” Saujani said. “It felt very much like a direct attack on the movement we’ve been building to get girls coding. Especially in districts that don’t have the technology or have disparate Wi-Fi, books are a great way to learn to code and a way to equalize access to coding.”
Saujani added that removing the books not only hinders visibility for women in technology fields, but also diversity in the industry, as many of the protagonists in the series are young girls of color.
“You cannot be what you cannot see,” she said. “They don’t want girls to learn how to code because that’s a way to be economically secure.”
The authors of the Girls Who Code books — Stacia Deutsch, Michelle Schusterman, and Jo Whittemore — joined Saujani in speaking out about the ban.
“Yep. I’ve been banned. Because some people choose not to focus on how awesome and empowering and inspiring these books are but instead choose fear,” Whittemore wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
After learning of the ban, Saujani said she reached out to the Central York School District president and several teachers in the area to understand why the books had been banned.
“This is an opportunity to realize how big this movement is against our kids and how much we need to fight,” Saujani told Insider. “This is opportunity to start more clubs, get more girls to code, and get more girls to become economically free.”
Correction: This story was updated Sept. 26, 2022 to include comment from Moms For Liberty and to reflect that the ban of Girls Who Code books lasted 10 months and ended in September 2021.