A stack of burning books.
Credit: Videologia / Shutterstock
Barth Keck

As the saying goes, “Everything’s bigger in Texas.” Apparently, that adage also applies to book banning, as officials last month removed 130 “inappropriate” books from school libraries in Granbury, Texas.

“The district began removing books from shelves [in early January],” according to WFAA-TV News, after “the board of trustees voted to amend district policy to allow for the removal of ‘materials because they are pervasively vulgar or based solely upon the educational suitability of the resource in question.’”

If Texas Rep. Matt Krause gets his way, a total of 850 books about racism, LGBTQ+ issues and gender identity would be removed from all school libraries in the Lone Star State. Former Granbury School Board Trustee Christopher Tackett on Jan. 27 tweeted a photo of school staffers lugging boxes labeled “Krause’s List” out of the Granbury High School library.

But it’s not just Texas.

Reporter Christopher Tackett posts an image of multiple boxes of books being carried out of a Texas high school library because the district's school board had voted 7-0 to allow books to be removed prior to review.
Reporter Christopher Tackett posts an image of multiple boxes of books being carried out of a Texas high school library because the district’s school board had voted 7-0 to allow books to be removed prior to review. Credit: Christopher Tacket / Screengrab from Twitter

“Parents, activists, school board officials and lawmakers around the country are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades,” reports The New York Times. “The American Library Association said in a preliminary report that it received an ‘unprecedented’ 330 reports of book challenges, each of which can include multiple books, last fall.”

Thankfully, we’re not particularly big on book bans or challenges here in the “Land of Steady Habits.” But that’s not to say it doesn’t happen.

A Brookfield parent in December asked the board of education to remove “Drama” from the Huckleberry Hill Elementary School Library. The graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier includes an openly gay character and a kiss shared by characters of the same sex. After several reviews, the board kept the book in circulation and will make a final decision on its fate sometime this year.

In January, Shelton School Board member Amy Romano filed a formal complaint with the district regarding “The Glass Castle: A Memoir,” which is required reading in freshman Honors English. “This is not about banning books,” she said. “It is about having age-appropriate content available for students.”

The book chronicles the dysfunctional family of author Jeannette Walls. It has won the Christopher Award for affirming “the highest values of the human spirit” and the American Library Association Alex Award for young adult literature.

Again, book challenges are uncommon in Connecticut compared to other parts of the country. As I noted in 2018, of the ALA’s 100 most banned or challenged books, I have taught and continue to teach at least 10 — classics like “Catcher in the Rye,” “Of Mice and Men,” and “Brave New World,” among others. I am clearly not alone among English teachers in Connecticut.

But times have changed, a fact illustrated by the unusually high number of challenges the ALA saw last fall. Could that same trend take hold in Connecticut? Unfortunately, anything is possible, especially in these fractious times when many people would rather take sides than have constructive conversations.

In most cases, school districts across the country do not remove books from reading lists or pull books off library shelves before conducting a review, typically involving teachers, librarians, and school administrators, who report their findings to the local school board for a final decision. That’s essentially what is happening in Brookfield and Shelton. In Granbury, Texas, however, the board changed the policy and removed 130 books from library shelves without any review.

This scenario highlights the increasing efforts to wrest control of curriculum decisions from schools and give them to legislators and parents. It began last year with the opposition to critical race theory and continues this year with proposed bills that empower parents to serve as “watchdogs” over teachers.

“Across the U.S., educators are being censored for broaching controversial topics,” reports NPR. “Since January 2021, researcher Jeffrey Sachs says, 35 states have introduced 137 bills limiting what schools can teach with regard to race, American history, politics, sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“[Sachs] says the recent flurry of legislation has created a ‘minefield’ for educators trying to figure out how to teach topics such as slavery, Jim Crow laws or the Holocaust,” adds the report. “One proposed law in South Carolina, for instance, prohibits teachers from discussing any topic that creates ‘discomfort, guilt or anguish on the basis of political belief.’”

As any teacher or librarian will tell you, difficult topics are best addressed head-on if they are to be taught effectively. It requires knowledge, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness, an approach any professional educator routinely employs. The alternative – avoiding or censoring these topics – is not only educationally bereft; it’s heresy in our democracy.

Perhaps that’s the way people in Texas want to do it. But in Connecticut, I’d like to think we prefer the time-honored, steady habit of free expression – which means, in this instance, trusting teachers and librarians to do their jobs.

Barth Keck is in his 32st year as an English teacher and 18th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him here.

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