The picture book that prompted a school censorship bill in the Texas House

by | May 11, 2021 | Politics, Texas Legislature

In the wee hours this morning, Texas Republicans voted for preliminary approval of House Bill 3979. The legislation, recorded as “relating to the social studies curriculum in public school,” is part of a larger effort by Texas Republicans to stomp out any trace of critical race theory in the classroom.

Critical race theory was first introduced by a number of law professors in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. It was a scholarly approach examining the impact of race and racism on law and the legal establishment. Recently, Republicans around the country have latched on to the phrase and enacted legislation in several states that would ban educators from teaching “divisive” concepts.

In Texas, HB 3979 was co-authored by Republican State. Rep. Steve Toth. “House Bill 3979 is about teaching racial harmony by telling the truth that we are all equal, both in God’s eyes and our founding documents,” said Toth when he introduced the legislation on the House floor last night.

According to the American Federation of Teachers of Texas, HB 3979 is de facto censorship. “HB 3979 would discourage teachers from discussing current events in social studies courses, prohibit students from receiving course credit for participation in activities and organizations that encourage civic engagement, and prohibit important school-wide race and gender diversity trainings for teachers, administrators, and state agency employees,” wrote Texas AFT.

Toth’s impetus for drafting HB 3979 stems from an event that happened in North Texas. In a letter to his fellow House members asking for more co-authors of HB 3979, Toth mentioned that the bill was created in response to the book “Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness” being recommended to students at an elementary school in Highland Park, which is located in a wealthy and predominantly white enclave in the middle of Dallas. That initial recommendation prompted backlash among many Highland Park parents, ultimately reaching the Texas legislature.

According to Toth, “Not My Idea” is “wrought with bigotry, racial determinism, and open embrace of collective guilt.” The book, written by Anastasia Higginbotham is described by Barnes & Noble as a “picture book about racism and racial justice, inviting white children and parents to become curious about racism, accept that it’s real, and cultivate justice.”

The School Library Journal named “Not My Idea” one of the Best Books of 2018. The Journal wrote a highly favorable review, calling the book “a much-needed title that provides a strong foundation for critical discussions of white people and racism, particularly for young audiences.”

For Toth, books like “Not My Idea” apparently have no place in a public school classroom or library. “Race-shaming our kids, due to the color of their skin will only exacerbate a terrible situation. It’s high time we recommit to fulfilling the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King by teaching our children that they ought to be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. The journey begins in the home and in the classroom,” wrote Toth in his letter to fellow state representatives.

The debate over HB 3979 on the House floor was particularly animated. A number of amendments introduced by House Democrats relating to slavery and the January 6th insurrection were also voted down.

State Rep. James Talarico, a former public school teacher, blasted Toth for even failing to understand the repercussions of the bill. “Your lengthy bill about civics makes no effort to teach about slavery – the only thing you’re doing is preventing us from talking about race in a way that makes you uncomfortable,” said Talarico.

Another vote on HB 3979 is expected later today.

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A longtime writer and journalist, Jessica was thrilled to join the Texas Signal where she could utilize her unique perspective on politics and culture. As the Features and Opinion Editor, she is responsible for coordinating editorials and segments from diverse authors. She is also the host of the podcast the Tex Mix, as well as the co-host for the weekly SignalCast. Jessica attended Harvard College, is a onetime fitness blogger, and has now transitioned to recreational runner (for which her joints are thankful).

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