As states like Texas work to keep “sexually explicit, pervasively vulgar or educationally unsuitable books” out of public schools, some teachers are actively working to undermine those efforts.
When Republican Texas state Rep. Matt Krause listed 850 books he wanted out of public schools in late 2021, one teacher near Houston started a secret bookshelf to preserve access to challenged or banned books for her students, NPR reports.
The secret bookshelf was recently the talk of the coffee shop between Houston teens. NPR’s Neda Ulaby interviewed both the teens and their teacher to build a lopsided story on why the effort to protect students is misguided.
“We don’t want to jeopardize our teacher in any way, or the bookshelf,” one of the teens said.
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The unnamed teacher told NPR when she learned of Krause’s effort to remove inappropriate books, she called friends and employed students to work toward collecting all the books on his list to ensure they remain available for students.
Titles included Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women That a Movement Forgot, The Poet X, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, and others with themes promoting the transgender and gay lifestyles.
“The books that make you uncomfortable are the books that make you think,” the teacher said. “Isn’t that what school is supposed to do? It’s supposed to make you think?”
One student told the news site the teacher “gave me her (credit) card and I bought them. It was a lot of gay books, I remember that.”
“Having these books, having these stories out there meant a lot to me, because I felt seen,” the teen said, adding that “it could be assumed that (my teacher is) grooming kids. And that would be terrible because that’s not what she’s doing at all.”
Officials at the teacher’s school district declined to discuss the situation with NPR. Carolyn Foote, an activist with Texas Freedom Fighters, an opponent of removing inappropriate books, alleges the effort has created “a climate of fear … by school leaders or librarians who do not understand the implications of the law or are fearful for their jobs.”
The Houston teacher with the secret bookshelf confirmed “it does make me nervous,” and said she felt “absolutely silly” contributing to a story about books without giving her name.
The secret bookshelf is one of many fronts on which activists are fighting against state, local and school board measures to restrict students’ access to overly sexualized and violent books at the behest of parents.
That effort spawns from a broader push by parents give them more say in what their children are taught in school, with many realizing during the remote instruction during the pandemic that some materials do not align with their values at home.
Across states including Colorado, Michigan, New York, Tennessee and others, groups like Red, Wine & Blue are hosting online “Troublemaker Training” to provide talking points for countering efforts to remove books, USA Today reports.
“These parents, civil rights activists and teacher advocates started bookmobiles offering banned books, created toolkits to equip activists, hosted online book clubs and sponsored banned book giveaways,” according to the news site.
“We have to be ready and organized to fight back,” Julie Womack, organizing director for Red, Wine & Blue, said during a recent training.
Other efforts have come from legislation introduced by progressive Massachusetts Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley to prohibit book bans, as well as a campaign by the National Urban League to link book restrictions to an alleged attack on black history.
“Take a banned book and put it under the tree for Christmas for your children,” Urban League President Marc Morial told activists at an awards dinner in Washington D.C.
Still other pushback has come from the American Library Association, the African American Policy Forum, Teaching for Change, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and others.
Parents and conservative groups who support them, meanwhile, are working to counter misleading claims from opponents that they’re working to erase black history, or attack transgender students.
“It should not be a partisan issue to assert that children do better when their families know what is going on in their lives,” Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Freedom, testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to USA Today. “This isn’t rocket science: the more information parents have, the better they can support their kids, both emotionally and academically.”
Lawmakers in dozens of states agree, enacting laws to restrict content most parents would deem inappropriate.
Those efforts, and others by school boards, are part of the responsibility of adults to oversee what they’re children are exposed to, and at what age, Jonathan Butcher, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told the news site.
“A school board has the right to decide what material is going to be delivered to students as long as it stays within the bounds of what state and federal civil rights laws already provide,” he said.