Texas Leads with Book Ban Amidst Opposition
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Texas finds itself at the epicenter of a contentious struggle over the direction of its education system. The ideological divide is starkly evident, with conservative majorities gaining ground on school boards in significant suburban districts. The removal of books from library shelves and the cancellation of talks by acclaimed writers have contributed to an atmosphere of uncertainty and restriction.
The introduction of House Bill 900, influencing how teachers approach race and gender instruction, and Governor Greg Abbott’s directive to investigate “criminal activity” related to pornography in schools have added to the ambiguity. Representative Matt Krause’s list of 850 books, aimed at invoking discomfort or guilt around race and sex, has prompted preemptive removals by some librarians. The lack of clarity regarding the motives behind these actions leaves educators frustrated and anxious.
In a growing wave of dissent, Texas students, supported by PEN America and various advocacy groups such as Blue Willow Bookshop and BookPeople are pushing back against the controversial HB 900 law. This Texas legislation, effective since September 1, mandates book vendors to rate books for sexual content before selling them to public schools. The first court ruling, by Judge Alan D. Albright, issued a 59-page injunction against HB 900, citing the potential for arbitrary decisions and forcing bookstores to either adopt state-determined speech or face blacklisting. The law faces scrutiny as it challenges the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause, a matter currently under consideration in the BookPeople v. Wong case, heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Historical Context of Book Bans
The battles over educational content in Texas are not new; they echo a long history of conflicts over curriculum content in American public schools. From the Red Scare to disputes over classic literary works, education has often been a battleground for competing ideologies. The recent focus on critical race theory and the lack of explicit mention in legislation contribute to the complexity and confusion surrounding educational policies in the state.
Critical race theory has become a flashpoint in the ideological struggle over education, with critics viewing it as a threat. Although the Texas law doesn’t explicitly mention critical race theory, it aligns with a broader national trend of conservative movements challenging certain educational concepts. The ban on teaching The New York Times’s 1619 Project further fuels the debate, emphasizing the importance of allowing students to engage with diverse perspectives rather than ruling out specific works.
The surge in book bans in Texas, as highlighted by a recent report from PEN America, is alarming. Texas recorded the highest number of attempts to restrict or ban books in 2022, with 93 attempts targeting 2,349 titles. The rise in challenges is attributed to well-organized conservative movements distributing lists to supporters. The consequences are felt by teachers and librarians, navigating uncertain terrain with concerns about potential job risks and challenges to inclusive education.
Themes of Banned Books
The report sheds light on the themes triggering book bans in Texas. A significant portion, 48 percent, involves themes or instances of violence and abuse, with sexual assault episodes making up 25 percent of these instances. Health and wellbeing topics, discussions on race and racism, LGBTQ+ representation, sexual experiences, and themes of grief and death also contribute to the bans, showcasing a pervasive attempt to control the narratives presented to students.
This scenario further underscores the significant influence of advocacy groups in shaping the tone, frequency, and targets of book bans. At least 50 such groups, including Moms for Liberty, Citizens Defending Freedom, and Parents’ Rights in Education, have played a prominent role. These groups contribute to 87 percent of all recorded book bans, raising concerns about the impact on free expression, educational diversity, and student well-being.
Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” topped the list as the most contested book in Texas. Nationally, the book ranked third in challenges, facing 73 attempts primarily centered around concerns of “depiction of sexual abuse,” content related to equity, diversity, and inclusion, and allegations of being sexually explicit.
Moms for Liberty: A Political Force
Moms for Liberty, a Florida-based organization claiming to champion parental rights in education, has rapidly become a political force. Despite positioning itself as grassroots, its close ties to prominent Republicans and its involvement in conservative causes have sparked controversy. With 285 chapters across 44 states, the organization’s influence extends to debates on race, gender identity, and educational content. Founded in 2021, the group has quickly expanded its reach. While portraying itself as nonpartisan, the organization has developed close ties with conservative figures, including former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The group’s impact on legislation, such as Florida’s “Parents Bill of Rights” and laws prohibiting certain aspects of gender and sexual orientation instruction, underscores concerns about the politicization of education.
Despite branding itself as unbiased, Moms for Liberty has faced controversies and received an “anti-government extremist” label from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Critics argue that the group, despite claiming to champion parental rights, has been involved in spreading anti-LGBTQ+ ideas and advocating for the removal of diverse materials from classrooms. The controversy has not deterred prominent Republicans from participating in the group’s events. As awareness of Moms for Liberty’s activities grows, local organizations promoting inclusivity in education are mobilizing against the group.
Navigating Education Laws
In this landscape, educators, students, and parents find themselves at the crossroads of conflicting values and beliefs, shaping the future of education in Texas. Understanding these trends is crucial for those committed to upholding principles of open discourse and intellectual freedom in education. The groups backing the students argue that HB 900 infringes on fundamental rights by limiting access to diverse perspectives in the form of literature.
Maggie Stern, youth engagement manager at the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas, stressed the importance of students having the right to read books that reflect their lives, teach them about others, and inspire leadership. With potential Supreme Court escalation, the legal battle highlights the profound implications of book bans on free speech and the autonomy of bookstores in Texas.
The nationwide challenges underscore the ongoing debates surrounding literature. These further emphasize the importance of open dialogue and diverse perspectives in the education realm. Students resilient in their stand for the freedom to read, have formed banned book clubs and have actively testified in favor of an honest education. In response, the advocacy groups are urging Texans to voice their opposition to House Bill 900, encouraging them to write to lawmakers and stand in solidarity with students calling for the preservation of their freedom to read.