There are still two months before the 88th Texas legislative session starts in early 2023. Still, Texas Republicans’ pre-filing records show banning more books in public schools and deciding what students can read in a classroom will be a top priority for the legislature.
For context, on Monday, Republican State Representative Tom Oliverson, HD-130, pre-filed HB 338, which forces publishers to add ‘age-appropriate’ ratings on any books or written materials.
According to the bill, publishers have 120 days to change the rating if the state doesn’t agree.
However, if the publisher doesn’t change the rating, they risk their book being blacklisted and pulled from shelves.
Moreover, this proposed bill applies to any library book or written material in the state’s 1,026 public school districts or any open-enrollment charter schools.
Director of Free Expression and Education Programs at PEN America, Jonathan Friedman, said this proposed bill gives the state “incredible power” during a press conference on Wednesday.
“It’s pretty unprecedented for the state [or] any kind of government to institute a rating system in this way,” Friedman said. “In the film or music industry, rating systems are imposed by the industry; they are not imposed by the state. Given the climate that we’re seeing in many states, this isn’t just age ratings.”
Friedman added that publishers and librarians already use categories to differentiate material and understand that each student has different reading levels, regardless of grade level.
“This is an incredible power to vest in state government which can be easily politicized, which can be manipulated, which can be ultimately subjective about what age everybody in school gets to read things,” he said. “We have to remember that school libraries not only serve students, they also serve families.”
This bill comes as Texas lawmakers and Texas Board of Education trustees have successfully banned around 801 books in public schools and local libraries.
It’s important to note that most books banned included content on historical events like slavery and the Holocaust, race, political violence, LGBTQ themes, and more.
Such titles as Toni Morrison’s Beloved, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Margaret Atwood’s novel, now turned television show The Handmaid’s Tale, are just a few examples of banned books.
According to a September poll by the EveryLibrary Institute, most American voters disapprove of the slew of book bans across the country, with 92 percent opposing the ban on classic novels and 91 percent opposing a ban on children’s books.
Nonetheless, Katy ISD student Cameron Samuels said these book bans are rooted in political motivation and hurt students more than anything.
“Proponents of book bans aren’t considering how losing access to affirming literature and resources that are vital to us will affect students’ education or well-being,” Samuels said. “Our schools are not battlefields for politics, and especially students are not political pawns.”