Archives for category: Literature

The state legislature in Texas passed a bill that will place an expensive burden on the state’s 300 or so small small bookstores. The mandate is not only costly but almost impossible to comply with. The state wants every bookstore to rate every book they sell by its “sexual content” and to refuse to sell books with sexually explicit content to teachers, librarians, and school libraries. In addition, the bookstores are supposed to report whether they have ever in the past sold books with such content to teachers or schools.

Independent bookstores around Texas warn that a bill designed to rid school libraries of sexual content could have unintended consequences that devastate their businesses.

The bill, which received final passage in the Legislature this week and is awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature, requires booksellers to rate every book they sell to a school, librarian or teacher for use in their classroom. Books can be without a rating, “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit,” and those with the explicit rating will be banned from schools entirely.

And by April of next year, every bookseller in the state is tasked with submitting to the Texas Education Agency a list of every book they’ve ever sold to a teacher, librarian or school that qualifies for a sexual rating and is in active use. The stores also are required to issue recalls for any sexually explicit books.

Many have expressed concerns that the bill is an effort to restrict books with LGBTQ themes or by Black authors. In addition, throughout the legislative process, independent bookstores repeatedly have warned that the bill misunderstands how book sales to schools work, is unworkable in its current form and could be harmful to small businesses.

“The First Amendment person in me says, ‘Why do we have to mark the books at all? ’ The business person in me says, ‘that’s going to be very hard to administer for the middle vendor,’ which we are,” said Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Book Shop in Houston.

Owners and employees of bookstores around the state have said they don’t have the staff or expertise to read and rate every single book they are selling to an educator, and they have no records to retroactively rate every book they’ve ever sold to a school. If the TEA finds that bookstores have been incorrectly rating books, they can be banned from doing business with charter schools or school districts, which might make up between 10 percent and a third of their business.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco. He dubbed it the Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources act, or READER Act. The measure was born out of conservative fears in the last few years of sexual content in public schools. Many of the books that were subsequently identified as inappropriate were written for LGBTQ children and teenagers.

Patterson has said the bill was inspired by “Gender Queer,” a coming-of-age graphic novel that explores the author’s gender identity and personal sexuality.

“We’re not talking about a certain type of sexual activity. We’re talking about sexually explicit of any sort. It doesn’t belong in front of the eyes and in the minds of kids,” Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, said during a Senate debate Tuesday night. Paxton shepherded the measure through that chamber. [Senator Paxton is the wife of State Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was just impeached for multiple financial crimes by the Texas House.]

Paxton said the bill will mostly affect large vendors, as just 50 companies sell most books purchased by Texas public schools, and three giants are responsible for the bulk of titles in campus libraries.

“If vendors want to sell books in Texas, they certainly have a vested interest in making sure it’s done properly,” she added.

But while those large vendors may be able to more easily bear the extra costs associated with this bill if it becomes law, it will be more difficult for the roughly 300 independent bookstores in Texas that have much smaller profit margins overall than the giants.

It’s common for stores to offer discounts for teachers, librarians and schools, which means the margins on those sales are lower.

For example, a librarian might give the store a list of 150 books they want to buy, at an average of 200 pages each. If this bill becomes law, the store will need to pay someone to read and rate each of those books, and run the risk of being punished by the Texas Education Agency if they get it wrong.

This could either make it more expensive for schools to buy books or make such sales infeasible for small bookstores, said Elizabeth Jordan, general manager of Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio. Her store had a goal of increasing its share of sales to schools to about 15 percent of its total business, she said, but that will no longer be possible.

“If I am selling a book to a school, I will have to have read the whole book to determine if it’s sexually relevant or sexually explicit. And both of those things, I think, are pretty subjective, and I might rate them differently than others might,” she said. “I don’t see why I would put myself at risk to do that. If all the onus is on me, all the liability is on me, and it’s not a job I’m trained to do or my employees are trained to do….

In addition, the bill requires stores to retroactively rate every book they’ve ever sold that is still “in active use by (a) district or school.”

“The way the bill is written right now is that not only can we get in trouble for what we sell to a school, we can get in trouble for something we sold 10 years ago to a school,” Koehler said.

When Ron DeSantis launched his candidacy on Twitter, he scoffed at the notion that schools were banning books in Florida. That alone should disqualify him, based on what we have seen, heard and read about the state’s encouragement of banning books that refer to gays or racism. A complaint by a single parent is sufficient to get a book removed from the school library. Most recently, a parent at an elementary school complained about Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb,” which she read at President Biden’s inauguration. The poem is now available to middle school children, but not to those in the elementary school.

The Miami Herald published this editorial about the phenomenon that DeSantis says is non-existent, a hoax.

Perhaps it’s because of how Amanda Gorman alluded to the Jan. 6 attack in her famous poem, finished the night after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol: “We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it.”

Or maybe she wrote too bluntly about race and the legacy of slavery:

“We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.”

Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, read “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, watched by about 40 million people. She wrote the poem so “that all young people could see themselves in a historical moment,” she posted on Twitter Tuesday.

But Gorman’s poem is now deemed not age appropriate, one of four library titles Bob Graham Education Center banned, following a parent’s complaint, for elementary school students, the Herald reported. The books are now available only for middle-schoolers at the public school in Miami Lakes, even though some of them were written for younger children.

The school committee that reviewed the material didn’t offer an explanation for its decision. We’re left to wonder: What in the children’s illustrated book “The ABCs of Black History,” written for children ages 5 and up, made it so inappropriate?

Perhaps it was the mention of iconic author James Baldwin’s sexual orientation: “And he was a gay man who believed that when it comes to love, you should ‘go the way your blood beats.” Or the mention of the Little Rock Nine, the “first Black children in all-white schools,” or the Black Panther movement. Or were the colorful drawings of Black female icons like Michelle Obama and Toni Morrison — described as “ queens”— too much?

One thing is clear: Books by Black authors — and about the Black American experience — make up three of the four titles deemed inappropriate for young children at Bob Graham Education Center. The other one, “Cuban Kids,” uses photos to describe the lives of children in Cuba in the early 2000s and how different or similar they are to Americans, according to the author’s homepage. Learning about the lives of their counterparts in a socialist country — including how they got around paper shortages — is sure to turn our kids into communists.

We knew that the movement to “sanitize” school libraries that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature unleashed would eventually catch up with Miami-Dade. Our melting pot, after all, might not be so different from Escambia County in the Panhandle, whose school board has been sued for removing books about race and LGBTQ topics.

Florida’s laws have emboldened parents and activists like Moms for Liberty to challenge materials dealing with these topics. Most recently, DeSantis signed a bill that empowers one person to file a complaint and ban a book, at least temporarily, while a district reviews it. Parents not satisfied with how a district ruled on the challenge can appeal to the state. That is bound to make schools acquiesce to offended parents.

The result, as Gorman wrote on Twitter after her poem was restricted, is that “most of the forbidden works are by authors who have struggled for generations to get on bookshelves.”

Elementary students were not required to read Gorman’s work or any of the challenged titles. These were options at Bob Graham Education Center’s library. Those options also should be available for the children of all parents, not only those offended by certain content or groups skimming books to find any remote reference to race or LGBTQ issues.

“Love to Langston” was written at a second-grade reading level but no longer is accessible to second-graders at Bob Graham. The illustrated biography of Harlem Renaissancewriter Langston Hughes describes his own elementary school experience, tainted by racism, in the early 1900s:

“In Topeka, Kansas the teacher makes me sit in the corner; in the last row; far away; from the other kids.”

The parent who filed the complaint said “Love to Langston” contained critical race theory, “indirect hate messages,” gender ideology and indoctrination, the Herald reported. It’s unclear how.

It is curious, however, that “indoctrination” and “hate messages” seem to be flagged mostly when when Black authors write about being Black, or when LGBTQ authors write about being queer. The adults must ask themselves why that’s the case before making them inaccessible to children.

John Merrow is sick of the “reading wars.” So am I. I studied them intensively and wrote about their history in my book Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform (2000).

In my opinion, Jeanne Chall (kindergarten teacher turned Harvard professor of literacy) settled the issues in her book called Learning to Read: The Great Debate. Her authoritative book, commissioned by the Carnegie Corporation, was published in 1967. She came out in favor of both early phonics and a rapid transition to children’s literature. She insisted that learning to read was never either-or. I wish she were alive to slap down the journalists and pundits who are now insisting that phonics and phonics alone is “the science of reading.” I feel sure she would laugh and say there is no science of reading. She warned that if we didn’t avoid either-or thinking, we would continue to swing from one extreme to another.

I am patiently waiting for evidence of any district (not counting affluent suburban districts) where “the science of reading” brought every child of every demographic and economic group to proficiency (not grade level, proficiency). The New York City Department of Education recently announced that it was mandating “the science of reading” across the entire city school system. We will be sure to check back in a few years and see how that worked out. Under Michael Bloomberg, Chancellor Joel Klein mandated “balanced literacy” (specifically, the work of Lucy Calkins of Teachers College, Columbia University, which was heavy on “whole word” and light on phonics). Phonics advocates were outraged, but they were ignored. Now the NYC Department of Education is swinging to the other extreme; balanced literacy is out, phonics is in.

John Merrow’s recent post about the “reading wars” reminded me of Jeanne Chall, who was a good friend.

I will post here a bit of it and urge you to open the link and read it all.

Learning the alphabet is a straightforward 2-step process: Shapes and Sounds. One must learn to recognize the shapes of the 26 letters and what each letter sounds like. There’s no argument about this, and certainly there has never been and never will be an “Alphabet War.”

The same rule–Shapes and Sounds–applies to reading. Would-be readers must apply what they learned about Sounds–formally called Phonics and Phonemic Awareness–to combinations of letters–i.e., words. They must also learn to recognize some words by their Shapes, because many English words do not follow the rules of Phonics. (One quick example: By the rules of Phonics, ‘Here’ and ‘There’ should rhyme; they do not, and readers must learn how to pronounce both.) To become a competent, confident reader, one must rely on both Phonics and Word Recognition.

Ergo, there’s absolutely no need, justification, or excuse for “Reading Wars” between Phonics and Word Recognition. None! And yet American educators, policy-makers, and politicians have been waging their “Reading Crusades” for close to 200 years. As a consequence, uncounted millions of adults have lived their lives in the darkness of functional illiteracy and semi-literacy.

Here’s something most Reading Crusaders don’t understand: Almost without exception, every first grader wants to be able to read, because they understand that reading gives them some measure of control over their world, in the same way walking does. And skilled teachers can teach almost all children–including the 5-20 percent who are dyslexic–to become confident readers.

Skilled teachers understand what the Reading Crusaders do not: Reading–again like walking–is not the goal. It’s the means to understanding, confidence, and control. Children don’t “first learn to read and then read to learn,” as some pedants maintain. That’s a false dichotomy: they learn to read to learn. And so skilled teachers use whatever strategies are called for: Phonics, Word Recognition, what one might call Reading as Liberation, and more.

Bob Shepherd lives in Florida and has watched Governor DeSantis’s effort to ban and demonize anything associated with gays: books, entertainment, cultural events, everything. Bob, who has a long career in education publishing, explains what we would lose if DeSantis has his bigoted way:

I have long loved theatre. When I was a young man, up until my thirties, I did a LOT of acting, and I have been a director, drama coach, playwright, screenwriter, and teacher of theatre and film at various times throughout my life. A couple years ago, I volunteered to do some work on stage sets at a local theatre company. Then, when one of the actors dropped out of the play that was underway, I was recruited to take his part. Fine. It was fun. But this was in Flor-uh-duh, where events often take a strange turn.

First, one day I was backstage painting a scrim. Next to me was another local, who had climbed a ladder to hang a light when, out of his back pocket fell his handgun, which dropped 15 feet or so and clattered to the stage. Well. How about that. This is Flor-uh-duh, in which random people are packing. Recently, in this stage, one of the workers slipped and fell on the gravel at a house construction site, and his gun accidentally went off and shot and killed a fellow worker up on the rooftop.

Second, I was warned by fellow actors to be mum about LGBTQ+ issues around the theater’s director, who was virulently anti LGBTQ+. This woman, who called all the shots at this small theatre company and appointed herself to direct all the plays, had stopped speaking to or seeing her own sister when the sister came out as lesbian. That seemed totally bizarre to me. An anti-LGBTQ+ THEATRE PERSON sounded, to me, like a a Jewish Nazi or a field mouse with a love for feral cats.

But there are, of course, such bizarre creatures. Consider, for example, former White House Propaganda Minister and creator of policies to separate babies from their parents, Stephen “Goebbels” Miller. When I was first told of this director’s opinions, I said, “But doesn’t she understand that this is a theatre company and ALMOST EVERYONE HERE is LGBTQ+ or as fluid as a river?” Evidently not. People attached to the company were so afraid of this woman that they tried to hide these things from her so that she would continue to cast them.

And I thought of Texas, back in my textbook editing and writing days, where the local Christian version of the Taliban morality police had suggested at several textbook adoption hearings banning “queer authors” from all K-12 literature textbooks. Which would have made for some pretty thin literature textbooks. There would be in them, for example, and in no particular order, NO James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Oscar Wilde, Federico Garcia Lorca, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Carson McCullers, E. M. Forster, Gore Vidal, Horace, Walter Pater, Lord Byron, Harvey Fierstein, Paul Goodman, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Noel Coward, Willa Cather, Petronius, Thornton Wilder, Evelyn Waugh, Gertrude Stein, Christopher Isherwood, Susan Sontag, Jeanette Winterson, Nikolai Gogol, Hilda Doolittle, Edna St. Vincent Millary, Elizabeth Bishop, Sarah Orne Jewett, David Sedaris, Edith Sitwell, Maurice Sendak, Arthur Rimbault, Mary Renault, Plato, Plutarch, Audre Lorde, Paul Verlaine, Stephen Spender, A. E. Housman, Thomas Mann, Aphra Behn, James Merrill, Marguerie Yourcenar, Terrance McNally, Virgil, Lytton Strachey, Michel Foucault, Samuel Delany, Jeremy Bentham, Anais Nin, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Howard Sturgis, Catullus, Adrienne Rich, John Donne, Colette, Daphne du Maurier, George Santayana, Mary Sarton, Frank O’Hara, Joe Orton, Wilfred Owen, Fran Lebowitz, Andre Gide, Allen Ginsberg, Alice Walker, Sir Francis Bacon, Virginia Woolf, Lord Tennyson, Alan Locke, Jack Kerouac, Countee Cullen, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Yukio Mishima, F. O. Mattheissen, D. H. Lawrence, John Milton, Sara Teasdale, Patricia Highsmith, Angela Davis, Thomas Gray, Sappho, Edward Albee, Hans Christian Andersen, Jean Genet, John Ashbery, W. H. Auden, Honore de Balzac, Djuna barnes, Roland Barthes, John Cheever, Helene Cixous.

Which might be fine with the likes of DeStalinist and the many nonreaders among Repugnican standouts these days. What would be left? The collected poems of Jerry Fallwell? The essays on what a man he is of Josh Hawley? The treatises in metaphysics and epistemology of Ted Cruz and Margorie Taylor Greene?

Good news! The legislature in Illinois has passed a law to withhold state funds from institutions that ban books. Governor J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign it.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker (D) is expected to sign a bill that would withhold state funds from institutions that ban books amid nationwide efforts to pull some titles from shelves.

“Illinois is one step closer to preventing book banning in Illinois libraries,” said Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias.

“Under this bill, we can support our state’s libraries and librarians and protect them against attempts to ban, remove or restrict access to books and resources,” he said.

The state’s H.B. 2789 would require libraries to adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights — which “indicates materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval,” according to the proposed text — or develop their own such statement against book banning in order to be eligible for state grants.

The bill has cleared the state legislature and now heads to the governor’s desk. Pritzker has previously said he supports the bill, according to the secretary of State’s office.

“Banning books is a devastating attempt to erase our history and the authentic stories of many. Students across this state deserve to see themselves reflected in the pages of stories that teach and entertain. I’m proud to support House Bill 2789 and ensure that Illinois’ libraries remain sources of knowledge, creativity, and fact,” Pritzker said in a March release….

“Our nation’s libraries have been under attack for too long—they are bastions of knowledge and proliferate the spread of ideas. That is why I am so proud that my measure to prevent the banning of books passed in the senate today,” said Illinois state Sen. Laura Murphy, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Paul Waldman and Greg Sergeant of the Washington Post described the social pressure within the community that cause dthe book censors in the county to back off.

It isn’t every day that the ruminations of local bureaucrats in a small rural Texas county become national news. But when commissioners in Llano County — population 21,000 — voted Thursday to keep its three-branch library system open, the moment was closely monitored by the biggest news organizations in the country.

That’s because Llano County has become a national symbol of local right-wing censorship efforts after officials threatened to close its libraries entirely rather than allow offending materials to remain on shelves. Under intense scrutiny, the commission blinked. Its leader acknowledged feeling pressure from “social media” and “news media.”

The commissioners’ apparent reluctance for Llano to be seen as a locus of censorship points to an unexpected development: Skirmishes emanating from book bans at schools and libraries in red states and counties, once localized affairs, are becoming viral national sensations. And the American mainstream appears to be paying attention.

Like many other similar conflicts, this one was triggered by a single Llano resident, Bonnie Wallace, who objected in 2021 to library books she pronounced “pornographic filth.” A bunch were removed, including unobjectionable materials such as Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen” and Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.”

The county also dissolved its libraries’ advisory board and reconstituted it with advocates of book removal, including Wallace herself. After other residents sued for the books’ return, a judge ordered the books placed back on the shelf, prompting the county to consider shutting the libraries pending the suit’s resolution.

At Thursday’s hearing, several of Llano’s self-designated commissars of book purging read explicit sex scenes from young adult books, but they went further, advocating for closure. One said: “I am for closing the library until we get this filth off the shelves.”

When the national media paid attention, other residents of Llano County realized that extremists were taking the lead and giving their community a bad name. Shame is a strong motivator.

But one of the big surprises of these sagas has been outbreaks of resistance to book purges in the reddest places, and here again, some locals dissented. One said: “We have to be a community that values knowledge.” Another fretted: “We are all over the media, and this is making us look pretty bad as a community.”

It turns out that even in an overwhelmingly conservative place (Donald Trump won nearly 80 percent of Llano’s votes in 2020), plenty of people value free expression. Many Republicans aren’t on board with the right’s censorship agenda. And these folks can organize.

To be fair to Llano County’s conservatives, many insist they don’t want to burn or censor books. As they told one of us (Paul Waldman) in interviews in Llano last fall, they only wanted material to be age-appropriate.

But that doesn’t explain opposition to books about racism. And even if some conservative voters are more measured, these efforts are open to abuse. In places such as Florida, they have allowed lone conservative activists to remove dozens of books from schools based on flimsy or absurd objections.

The book-banning impulse is taking on a crazed life of its own. At a Llano County tea party meeting in November, Waldman witnessed Wallace passionately pleading that “I need more conservative friends” to help get “pornography out of the library,” adding: “We must, must, must keep fighting.” It was obvious that, for people like Wallace, the prospect of controlling which books their community can access has been a thrill.

Such right-wing activists thought they had good reason for confidence. After Republican Glenn Youngkin was elected Virginia governor in 2021 on a dishonestly termed “parental rights” platform, some censorship-minded activists imagined they had a national mandate. But arguably only the GOP base was paying attention to that issue at the time (swing voters were focused on school closures).

Now, the national media — and perhaps the mainstream of the country — are watching these local abuses unfold. “Every day it seems there’s a new book banned, an art exhibit canceled, or a drag performance under threat,” Jonathan Friedman of PEN America told us. “People are waking up to the fact that state and local governments are running rampant.”

National opinion isn’t cooperating with the censors. In the 2022 elections, many prominent culture-warring GOP candidates lost. (Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is an exception.) Polls show large percentages of parents are concerned about schools banning books and that Americans overwhelmingly reject bans based on teachings about history and race.

Therein lies a trap for the GOP. The activist base is demanding increasingly reactionary censorship measures, and officials such as DeSantis are obliging for 2024 primary purposes. Yet as these local far-right lurches attract attention, they taint the national GOP as extreme.

Democrats should take heed. Some still appear skittish about culture-war issues, as evidenced when Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told TPM’s Hunter Walker that “we want to stay above” censorship controversies, as if ignoring them would make them go away or is good politics.

But when the national spotlight falls on censorship, the right is exposed, the left is energized and moderates balk at seeing their communities controlled by a small band of extremists.

Democrats must speak to those resisting these outbreaks of hysteria in deep-red places such as Llano. In some of them, fundamental liberal values still endure. The way to respond to this wave of censorship isn’t to hope it burns out, but to flush it into the light and confront it head on.

Overall, the story in Llano County is encouraging. It shows that civic leaders don’t want their community to be known for book banning.

But what’s really discouraging is the loud silence from the U.S. Department of Education. Why is Secretary Cardona silent? Why does he want to stay out of censorship controversies? Why isn’t he defending teachers and librarians? Why isn’t he standing up for the right to read?

This is a perilous time. American schools, teachers, and librarians need a champion not milquetoast. Teachers and librarians know that their jobs are at risk if they stand up to the vigilantes. What does Secretary Cardona have to lose? He should be speaking out against vouchers. He should be speaking out against censorship. He should be defending the accurate teaching of American history. He cannot float above the issues without appearing weak.

Democrats must speak out against censorship and privatization. That is a winning strategy.

Peter Greene discovered a conservative making a case for public education. Was it inadvertent?

Peter writes:

Okay–where do you think this next excerpt came from?

Our public schools are one of the few unifying institutions that we have left. If we allow [something] to continue to individualize and atomize the classroom, we shouldn’t be surprised if our culture and political climate follow suit. In a traditional classroom with central texts, common knowledge, and routinized behavioral norms, our children learn to let another finish speaking before interrupting, no matter how much they might disagree. How many complete strangers could spark up a conversation over their shared love—or perhaps disdain—for the Great Gatsby because so many of us have read it in high school?

Traditional literature classrooms in particular seem all the more important as technology advances. When children spend ever more timeisolated in their rooms, endlessly scrolling on their phone, depressed and anxious, the act of putting a phone away, reading together, and then making eye contact to discuss the text could be the very “social and emotional” support that they need. When artificial technology can accomplish evermore tasks, enjoying a book with friends is one of the few remaining, distinctly human pleasures.

Is this me, arguing against current versions of school choice, particularly tech-based versions like micro-schools?

Nope. This is Daniel Buck, rising star conservative education writer on the AEI/Fordham circuit. I’ve written about him before, and you can check that out if you want more of his story or the story of his website, but for right now, mostly what you need to know is that Buck’s specialty is arguing against straw versions of progressive education stuff, which is what he says he’s railing at. My impression is that Buck means well, but doesn’t spend near enough time reading actual non-conservatives about education.

Here he’s railing against progressives who, in his telling, are out there letting students in classes pick all sort of different texts and do different things and follow different muses and while I have no doubt such teachers exist (in a pool of 4 million, you can find examples of anything), I’ll bet that most teachers, conservative or not, find the idea of overseeing 130 different individual reading units the stuff of nightmares.

No, the place you’re much more likely to find an array of students following an atomized assortment of varied educational paths would be a city that offers dozens of school choices, from “classical” whiteness to computer-driven whatever to contemporary diverse authors to neo-Nazi home schooling.

The argument he makes in this latest piece–that the nation benefits from having students share core experiences together while learning some of the same material even as they learn how to function in a mini-community of different people from different backgrounds–that’s an argument familiar to advocates of public education. The “agonizing individualism” and personalized selfishness that he argues against are, for many people, features of modern school choice–not public schools.

Open the link to read the rest of this post.

Steve Hinnefeld writes about a threat in Indiana to ban books and to criminalize librarians who allow anyone to check out a banned book.

Hat’s off to Indiana’s librarians. They turned out in force last week when legislators considered making it easier to ban books and prosecute people who provide material that’s “harmful to minors.” And they pushed back when lawmakers suggested they didn’t know what they were saying.

The legislation was written and ready to roll. For now, though, it’s off the table. Steve warns that it could be attached to another bill. Hoosier librarians are watching.

The Indiana legislature is considering a bill that would empower parents to censor books they find objectionable and to criminalize librarians who allow such books in libraries. The story was originally reported on WYFI, the NPR station in Indiana.

Chalkbeat reported:

The House Education Committee heard hours of testimony Wednesday from school employees, librarians, and others across Indiana who expressed opposition to a proposed amendment to a bill that would strip these employees of a legal defense against charges they distributed material harmful to minors.

The hearing was the latest evolution in a months-long legislative process driven by concerns among some parents that pornography is rampant in schools. While lawmakers have drafted legislation to address these concerns, they’ve presented little evidence to suggest it’s a widespread problem. The latest iteration of the legislation also targets public libraries.

Rep. Becky Cash (R-Zionsville), who crafted the amendment, said she’s heard from “thousands” of parents who have lodged complaints with their schools over books they believed were objectionable.

“Parents have testified in school board meetings and come to me, and many members of this committee and assembly many, many times over the last couple of years saying that the system did not work for them,” Cash said.

She explained that the amendment mandates schools and public libraries lay out a transparent process for parents and residents to lodge complaints.

But several Democratic members of the committee expressed concern that the bill would empower some parents and disempower others by creating a system in which some parents could control access to books for all children. They also expressed opposition to a portion of the amendment that strips librarians and school employees from a legal defense.

“We are not the court of appeals from parents who are unhappy with school board decisions,” said Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis). “But if we were the Court of Appeals, we would want evidence. What parent? What school? What book? What hearing? What process? Not this vague discontent.”

These attacks on librarians and on the freedom to read are despicable. The red states are empowering ignorant censors who want to impose their values on people who don’t share them.

There is a popular stereotype of librarians: Mild-mannered, quiet, unassuming, and of course, bookish. But the Republicans in the Texas legislature seem to think that behind that compliant demeanor lies a sinister purveyor of dangerous ideas and books. What other explanation can there be for proposed legislation that would place book selection in the hands of a parent committee? And why strip away the legal protections accorded to librarians doing their job?

Sara Stevenson, a retired middle school librarian in Austin, wrote the following article, which was published in the Dallas Morning News.

As a former school librarian and mother, I have always believed parents have total control over what their children select to read from the school library.

However, Senate Bill 13 goes too far. Between July 2021 and June 2022, only 22 of 1,650 Texas school districts experienced formal book challenges in the past school year, less than 2%. All school districts already have formal challenge and reconsideration policies in place.

SB 13 transfers the decisions for acquiring library materials into the hands of a council of parents, the majority of whom do not work for the district but only have children attending. What possible experience or credentials or rights does this committee have to make decisions on what children can and can’t read in an entire school district? After a long, convoluted process spelled out in the bill, the school board must then approve the list of library books before they may be purchased.

First of all, it is clear the authors of this bill have a poor understanding of school library programs. In Austin ISD, there are 116 schools. This Local School Library Advisory Council, appointed by the school board, is required to meet only twice a year to decide on the library collections for all 116 schools. A single campus librarian purchases materials throughout the year. It’s not a one and done process.

This bill will greatly delay the timeline between ordering books and getting them into the hands of children. The additional 30-day waiting period further impedes the process. As a librarian, I had the freedom to pre-order the next book in a popular series so that I could add it to our collection the very day it was published. Kids clamoring for the next book in a beloved series will now have to wait for months if not all year.

The bill also invites parents to opt in to a program in which the librarian emails them each time their child checks out a book, including the book’s title and author. One elementary school in south Austin averages 196 checkouts per day. How is it possible for the librarian to send these emails while also running her library program? Instead, why not integrate the library catalog information into the parent portal, the website which parents already access to see their child’s grades? Parents can then look up their students’ library records. It would even help librarians with the bane of our existence: long overdue books.

The portion of the bill that enables anyone to prosecute individual librarians for distributing “harmful material” under the Texas penal code (Sec. 43.24) is the most shocking and destructive piece in this bill. It removes affirmative defenses for educational purposes. Does this also remove legal protections from members of the advisory council if a “bad” book slips through the cracks?

I can’t believe the state of Texas wants to allow frivolous lawsuits against librarians, school boards, principals, and teachers. We are already experiencing a teacher shortage, with at least 59 districts switching to four-day weeks.

If passed, this bill will bring a culture of fear and intimidation to our schools.

The men and women who choose to serve as school librarians are among the most intelligent and ethical people I know. They are not just serving the children of the five parents on the Local School Advisory Committee; they are representing the interests of all children and the parental rights of all families at their schools, upholding their First Amendment Rights to read.

If the Senate Public Education Committee had only consulted in good faith with the vast majority of school librarians whose patrons are extremely satisfied with the library collections they curate, this bill would have been able to find a balance between respecting parental rights and ensuring better oversight in purchasing materials without adding unwieldy, impractical layers of bureaucracy and red tape that will prevent children from having ready access to the books they want and need to read.

Sara Stevenson is a former school librarian in Austin ISD. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.