Banning, criminalizing, maybe even burning books is back for public schools in Texas

by Iri Maus

Many of the books being challenged and removed from shelves (sometimes temporarily) — in KansasPennsylvania, and especially Texas — have to do with racism. Texas state Rep. Michael Krause (R) launched a review last month targeting books that “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” due to their “race or sex.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Wednesday instructed the Texas Education Agency to investigate potential crimes related to “the availability of pornography” in public schools and refer any such instances “for prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.” The TEA, The Texas Tribune notes, “does not employ law enforcement officers.” Two days earlier, Abbott had asked the TEA and other state agencies to develop statewide standards preventing “obscene content in Texas public schools.”

Pornography is one thing, but “there is clearly an audience in the conservative movement for more broadly excluding subjects involving the history of racism and how it might impact modern life,” Blake concludes. And the big question is “how wide a net is cast.”

Gov. Greg Abbott’s letter railing against “pornographic or obscene material” in school libraries follows state lawmakers targeting books by LGBTQ authors

In another vague attack on what schools can and can’t teach in Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott wrote a letter to the state association of school boards warning against “pornographic or obscene” books in school libraries.

While the letter did not provide any concrete examples of such books, it comes days after Republican state Rep. Jeff Carson demanded an investigation into “sexually explicit” books in school libraries that could violate “pornography and decency laws.” Carson explicitly named the book “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, an autobiographical comic by a nonbinary author.

Last week, the book was removed from one school library in the Keller, Texas, school district.

In an op-ed, Kobabe wrote about several districts across the country that had removed or challenged the book. The author condemned the “pornography” label as a “common accusation against work with themes of queer sexuality,” adding that “removing or restricting queer books in libraries and schools is like cutting a lifeline for queer youth.”

A spokesperson for the Texas Association of School Boards said that the group had received the governor’s letter but was “confused” as to why, since the group “has no regulatory authority over school districts and does not set the standards for instructional materials, including library books.”

Local school districts govern which books are available in their schools’ libraries, as the governor’s own letter states. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last week, another Republican state representative in Texas, Rep. Matt Krause, launched a vague inquiry into hundreds of books in Texas school libraries. Krause’s letter, reportedly sent to a Texas Education Agency official and several school districts, listed over 800 books and asked schools how many were on campus, how much schools had spent on them, and more.

The books listed were primarily by women, people of color and LGBTQ writers, the Dallas Morning News reported. The list included books about racism like “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson; about gender-queerness, like “Beyond The Gender Binary” by Alok Vaid-Menon; and about queer relationships, like “In The Dream House” by Carmen Maria Machado.

Greg Abbott

Krause declined to tell the Texas Tribune and other media outlets about the specific purpose of the inquiry.

The Texas State Teachers Association called Krause’s probe a “witch hunt.”

Abbott signed a new Texas law in June broadly seeking to block teachers from talking about white supremacy, racism and privilege in classrooms.

Like the governor’s letter on “pornography” in school libraries, the new law is vague, leaving Texas teachers unsure of what they can and can’t teach.

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