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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Judging books by their covers

Photo by Photo by Annie Lui

Recently there have been calls to ban specific textbooks in schools.

Although book banning reached an all-time high in the 1970s, the practice has made its return to K-12 schools in Texas. 

Passed on May 11, House Bill No. 3979, or HB 3979, covers topics of race, sex and gender in public K-12 schools. Beyond the bill, Republican Rep. Matt Krause launched an investigation into books discussing sex or gender in Texas school districts. The investigation comes after books were removed from libraries across the state as a result of parental outcry
In reaction to this bill, Texas A&M librarian Rebecca Hankins said all books have value, providing knowledge to imagine, create and improve society. 
“As a descendent of an enslaved population in America, we were forbidden from reading books or even learning to read, so books have always been important to learning about history, art, culture and society,” Hankins said. “If we don’t learn the value of all aspects of who we are as a people — that includes race, gender, sexuality — then how can we value and acknowledge those changes, contributions, setbacks and progress we have made as a pluralistic society?”
HB 3979 prevents teachers from discussing a “current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs,” A&M English professor Shona Jackson said. HB 3979 legislates ignorance at the cost of the well-being and lives of those such as Asian Americans attacked during the pandemic, and Black men, women and children who face police violence, she said. 
“The bill itself enshrines the ideals of 1776 and ignores the fact that in the United States slavery lasted another roughly 80 years; that women could not vote until over a hundred and thirty years later; that it took over 175 years to legally prohibit discrimination and make voting accessible to all citizens; and that it took over 200 years for same-sex couples to legally marry in the United States,” Jackson said. “It is true that the U.S. was founded on the ideals of liberty and equality, but it is also true that it is a settler state founded on Black slavery, native land theft and white male heteropatriarchy. To teach one fact and not the other is simply irresponsible.” 
Hankins said Texas has a fraught history in many of these areas, and failing to learn history prevents our society from not making the same mistakes as have been made in the past. 
“These books can educate students to make informed decisions based on the facts and not mythology or miseducation,” Hankins said. “They can learn from the past to make a better future for all people.”
In a letter to Texas superintendents, Krause called for schools to remove any books discussing human sexuality or material on HIV/AIDS which could make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of their race, sex or more. 
Attached to the letter is a 16-page list with over 850 books, where Krause requested to know the allotted number of copies and cost of the books if the schools have any of these books. Jackson said critical race theory isn’t taught in elementary schools, only at the college level, so the assault on CRT makes no sense.
“When we don’t talk substantively and complexly about race, gender and sexuality in our elementary schools, we deny our young people the ability to see themselves, to see their lives, bodies and realities reflected,” Jackson said. “We also produce generations that are naïve and unresponsive to the realities of racism and gender and sex-based violence that affect women and sexual and racial minorities in the U.S.”
As a librarian, Hankins said she and co-workers teach students through books, articles and documentation to develop critical thinking skills that teach them how to discern facts from fiction, to make decisions based on the preponderance of evidence rather than from emotional or sensational materials. 
“Books are always informing us, even those we don’t agree with the content,” Hankins said. “We are not so fragile that books that make us uncomfortable should not be read. On the contrary, they should be read so we can argue with their conclusions. I don’t agree with everything I read and some of the ideas are uncomfortable, but I learned to make my arguments based on other material that can challenge what I disagree with and make an alternative argument. If we never challenge our ideas, how do we possibly learn to agree or disagree, how do we develop the building blocks of critical thinking?”
Sociology professor Wendy Moore said she believes critical race theory, just like any theory about race and racism, provides an important lens to examine persistent and relatively permanent racial inequalities in our society. 
“Critical race theory does a few things that I think are very important,” Moore said. “It contributes to other theoretical paradigms like systemic racism, or other sociological theories about race and inequality. And so in that sense, I think that it’s very important, and I think that it’s an important tool.” 
Although the bill does not directly mention critical race theory, it is defined as an academic discipline that holds that racism is embedded in legal systems and not limited to individuals. Moore said when people use the term critical race theory, they’re not talking about critical race theory but instead anything they disagree with regarding race and racism. 
“Conservatives actually decided on critical race theory as a short concise term,” Moore said. “I mean, they’re certainly against critical race theory. But really what critical race theory has become, in terms of the rhetoric that’s being used, is a signal for anything that teaches about race. And white supremacy in our history, racial inequality today.”
Moore said she believes booking banning is harmful on multiple levels and a violation of core democratic principles of freedom of speech. 
“With regard to what’s going on with the attempts to censor books, it is not about critical race theory,” Moore said. “Saying it’s about critical race theory, signals a particular fear that a lot of people have about young people learning about the history of race and racism, of white supremacy in this country and contemporary racial inequalities that persist.”
Jackson said critical race theory is taught to unpack how structures of oppression work, not to make people feel badly about themselves.
“What HB3979 and the recent effort to ban certain books on race and sexuality actually accomplish is something that authoritarian regimes have always done: restrict what people can read, what they can think, and what they can know about the world they live in,” Jackson said. “This is what we should be afraid of.”


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