Op-Ed: Book Bans Are Just The Start Of A Dangerous Trajectory For Texas

by | Jun 6, 2023 | Opinion, Policy

As I complete my freshman year of college, and seeing the push to ban books in school libraries from the Texas Legislature (and in other states around the country), it has me reflecting on where I was 18 months ago. I never would have thought the second half of my senior year of high school would have begun with the feeling of living in a dystopian novel, but there we were.

At our High School, we observed “Banned Books Week” every year – which was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. My freshman year in High School, we read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 – an iconic novel about book burning. I never expected to come face to face with these themes in real life. But on January 27th, 2022, this dystopian reality came into focus when boxes of books, labeled “Krause’s List,” were wheeled out of our library. Perhaps administrators and politicians thought we wouldn’t notice.

At the January 2022 school board meeting, four high school students spoke to protest the removals. I’m proud that Darcy, Bella, and Jillian raised their voices with mine. But we were astounded by our Superintendent’s reaction. Alluding to us, he spoke about “radicals” who were “gaslighting” and inciting division. He attacked us, but we were standing up for each other, for our education, and against the long, dangerous history of banning books. We affirmed that all of us, regardless of race, class, gender, or sexual orientation, are welcome, and that no leader or politician can call our very lives and experiences “inappropriate.”

Granbury ISD removed 130 books from our library shelves “for review,” in violation of the district’s own policies. These books came from a list of 850 “inappropriate” titles, created by outgoing Texas House Representative, and former Tarrant County DA candidate Matt Krause. Krause has never said where the list came from, but BookRiot conducted an analysis of likely reasons the books were flagged: 62% include LGBTQ+ characters, 8% explore race and racism, and 14% touch on puberty and sex education. Krause and our school district were not only targeting what information and ideas students have access to, but who we are allowed to be. They’re trying to take away not just books, but ideas.

Granbury ISD banned five of the pulled books for the undefined theme of “overt sexuality.” A hastily formed Book Review Committee went on to officially ban an additional three titles, with thirty others from the “for review” list disappearing from library shelves in the months that followed. At the time the books were pulled, there were zero community complaints or requests to remove any books. We know this because of open records requests filed with the district. But over the remainder of the school year, the district was flooded with requests to remove books, as the fear mongering took hold.

The books reviewed and banned in Granbury weren’t dangerous or “pornographic,” unless you believe that the free exchange of ideas is dangerous. They tell stories about real world situations and people that some in the community and some politicians would rather didn’t exist. It’s like Fahrenheit 451, where the fireman explains the need for book burnings: “We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other, then all are happy…You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred.”

Book bans and laws put forth and passed by politicians are yet again a “solution” to a problem that doesn’t exist. It seems that when politicians are out of real ideas, they resort to fear and division. I wonder how many of the other book bans I’ve heard about throughout the state and country are similarly manufactured, and how many communities are seeing important and valuable books disappearing from their library shelves.

Libraries and schools are places for students to explore, to question, to think critically, to argue viewpoints, to find themselves. Hiding the real world from us is wrong. Telling us that we must all be the same, and that some of our lives and families are “inappropriate” is unconscionable. Laws like Texas House Bill 900 and the rhetoric attacking librarians and teachers creates a chilling effect, where books get banned, challenging and impactful stories aren’t placed on shelves, great educators decide teaching isn’t worth the weight they are forced to carry, and generations of kids get left out, left behind.

We shouldn’t stand for it. We must fight back, but we can’t do it alone. In the words of Fahrenheit 451, “How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?” It’s past time to be bothered about this. Show them we matter. Show them we won’t go back.

Kennedy Tackett was raised in a small Texas town (but don’t hold it against her), and she is currently living in the Big Apple (don’t hold it against her either)

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