Post from 802, November 2021

The Great Texas Anti-Pornography Crusade

Monday, 8. November 2021 0:10

We seem to have a pornography problem in the public schools of Texas. Or, that is at least what the governor and several state legislators say.  This past Monday, the Governor wrote the executive director of the Texas Association of School Boards, stating that “a growing number of parents are becoming increasingly alarmed about some of the books and other content found in public school libraries that are extremely inappropriate in the public education system.” He goes on to say that “the most flagrant examples include clearly pornographic images and substance that have no place in the Texas public education system.” Of course, he provides no specific examples of this content. A spokesperson for the Texas Association of School Boards said that the group was confused about why the letter was sent to them, because it “has no regulatory authority over school districts and does not set standards for instructional materials, including library books.”

And last week state representative Jeff Cason asked the Texas Attorney General to investigate “sexually explicit material in public schools.” He went on to ask the Attorney General to “launch a statewide investigation into that [Gender Queer] and other books that may ‘violate the Penal Code in relation to pornography, child pornography and decency laws, as well as the legal ramifications to school districts that approved these types of books.’”

One suspects that the Governor and Rep Cason were climbing on board the culture war bandwagon that seems to have been set in motion by state representative Matt Krause, who chairs the Texas House’s General Investigating Committee, and is a candidate for state attorney general. In October, Krause sent a letter to the Deputy Commissioner of school programs at the Texas Education Agency and several school district superintendents demanding that school districts across the state report whether any of the books on the list of 850 titles are in their classrooms or libraries He also directed that the districts identify any other books that could cause students “guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The Texas State Teachers Association was quick to respond: “This is an obvious attack on diversity and an attempt to score political points at the expense of our children’s education. What will Rep. Krause propose next? Burning books he and a handful of parents find objectionable?”

And about that list of titles—Danika Ellis of bookriot.com did an analysis of the list and discovered several interesting things: there are no reasons given for books being on the list, even the ones that are listed twice. Ellis broke down the presumed reasons for books being on the list as follows: LGBTQ 62.4%; Race and Racism 8.3%; Sex Education 14.1%; Miscellaneous (including pregnancy, abortion—not Sex Education, and Unknown 15.2%. 58.89% of the books are fiction; 41.1% are nonfiction. Ellis also notes that there were several notable titles on the list, including one Pulitzer Prize winner and several other award-winning books. She also cites what she calls the “most disturbing trend” on the list as the challenge to books about human and student rights.

There is, of course, no indication—at least that I can find—of where the list came from. At least one article suggests that it was cut and pasted together from a variety of sources, and probably never properly vetted.

Perhaps some of you are wondering why I have taken the time, energy, and space to report on what can be gleaned from a few internet sources. The answer is simple: when books begin to be removed from the shelves, it’s not only the potential readers who are hurt. Certainly, readers probably suffer most, particularly if they are seeking information that has become banned. But writers suffer as well, and by extension, all artists. We all are diminished when our works are forbidden their potential audiences. So in case you missed this, I wanted you all to know about it. Book banning represents an existential threat to artists, and we need to be aware.

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