Removing South Texas One Book At A Time

Words by Julia-Paz Garza

Edited by Abigail Vela

It is no secret that the Texas education system has faced many obstacles concerning the curriculum these past few years. Governor Greg Abbott has passed plenty of House Bills in regard to what can and cannot be taught in our classrooms. In addition to state HBs, the nation faces a concerning amount of book bans that are taking hold of our South Texas classrooms.

 

It’s clear that Texas is living in the stone age. With all the current laws against the people living in the state, it is a no-brainer why so many novels are being banned. Texas is a very conservative state that prides itself on control of its borders, women, education, medical system, and workforce. I adore my state, but I do not appreciate the doors that have been and are being closed now by publishers/educators as they back away from wanting to share the stories of our minorities simply because they know that the stories contain topics that will be banned anyways.

The Havoc Begins with Banned Books

As stated by The Texas Tribune, “The report released [by PEN America] on Monday, [September 19, 2022], found that school administrators in Texas have banned 801 books across 22 school districts, and 174 titles were banned at least twice between July 2021 through June 2022. PEN America defines a ban as any action taken against a book based on its content after challenges from parents or lawmakers.”

Eight hundred and one books have been banned in the state of Texas. Eight hundred and one stories will never be told in twenty-two school districts, stories that will never give a chance to entertain, educate, or challenge readers in our education system. I have disputed with parents, teachers, students, school board members, administration, and even my friends about the importance of reading books on these banned lists. And every argument tends to always boil down to there being a war on education with topics such as Black Lives Matter (BLM), LGBTQ+, racism, sexism, and most issues that define our history, which means that the pushback is always about forcing doctrine on our students. However, that is not the case at all; in fact, it is quite the opposite.

The Teacher Scream: Artwork by Connie Ramirez

“At the end of the day, no one goes into the classroom with the attitude of wanting to ‘indoctrinate’ children with radical ideas; you know what it really is we are trying to do with our students? We are trying to create empathy and understanding for lives and lifestyles that we might never get a chance to understand if it wasn’t for the world of books, which introduce us to worlds and characters and let us take a peek into the mindsets of how they navigate through their world and challenges and develop themselves on their paths.” Connie Ramirez, a former English High School Teacher/Bilingual Teacher and Reading Specialist, explained when I asked her about reading texts in class that could be considered for bans by parents. 

 

Time and time again, when a book becomes banned, the school district’s librarian must work their hardest to get the book removed. The removal of books from school districts happens more than is noticed because, according to the American Library Association, anywhere from 82 to 97 percent of the requests for the removals are unreported and thus receive no media attention. At this point in the book’s run, no publisher is hurt by what is happening. It is hard for anyone to get any pain from these requests or bans because they are never reported. At this level, the book ban or request strictly hinders librarians. “This rapidly accelerating movement has resulted in more and more students losing access to literature that equips them to meet the challenges and complexities of democratic citizenship,” Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s free expression and education programs and the lead author of the report, said in a statement.

A New Form Of Censorship

It is a whole new form of censorship that most people think, oh, it is just a high school; once they go to college, they will be okay. As soon as a child turns 18, they will suddenly be able to analyze what books are appropriate for their reading levels and understanding even though they have been constricted and censored this whole time. A college library will have all the books they could ever dream of without restriction. But how can you ever learn how to analyze text if you are never allowed to read the ones that challenge your way of thinking the most?

As an educator, the banned book is a struggle because it means, by law, the book cannot be on campus or given out to the students in any shape or form, including as an off-campus recommendation. This hurts our students in ways that we haven’t been able to fully comprehend.

The book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is a narrative about a Native American teenager named Arnold Spirit Jr., a promising 14-year-old cartoonist. The novel has been banned because of the use of profanity, sexual references, and a derogatory term. The book itself handles themes such as identity, race, loss, poverty, isolation, dreams, and hope, all of which are important thoughts and topics that many adolescents face. The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) calls for teachers to teach comprehension skills that “make connections to personal experiences, ideas in other texts, and society….” So why wouldn’t a student want to be allowed to read a book that they may connect with on a personal level? The TEKS calls for this skill, but with each book ban that Texas creates, it becomes harder and harder for the skill to be practiced in school. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a perfect example of a book worth having in class that is stripped away simply because it’s easier to take a book off the shelf than it is for adults to have conversations with teens about their vocabulary and hormones.

Now, most of you will still find Alexie’s book in your libraries because it’s true that book bans take time to affect all areas, but take Edinburg CISD, for example. For two years, their high school English teachers fought to teach Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia as their summer reading book. The pushback was because it contained “inappropriate” material. However, the only thing inappropriate about the book was the fact that the main protagonist was fighting back against her oppressor: her future husband. Mexican Gothic was not allowed in the classroom at Edinburg CISD for this reason. Despite all the facts and evidence that this book would help students develop the required skills through Gothic Literature, it was banned specifically from this district.

The book Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Photo courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Keep On Reading

 

So what does this actually mean for readers? How can one stand up against book bans? First, you must understand that most of the books that are challenged aren’t actually coming from the government. Voting can only get you so far because the true army you have to battle is, unfortunately, the parents. For most of the books on the list, with just a quick google search, you’ll find that parents are the most active when it comes to crying out and actively forcing books out of the curriculum. Many educators have disputes over controversial books with their students’ guardians. Teachers fear losing their jobs over these books and even harbor a small fear of these parents, so reading in class has become less and less a priority. This will hurt the education system in ways that might never be restored if we continue to let it go unchecked.

 

Here’s what you should be doing: Read. Take a look online and find the books that are being pulled from the shelves of your classrooms. Take the time to sit and read those books with your kids, your siblings, your cousins, your nephews/nieces, and our future. Let them see the words that are clearly what anti-intellectuals don’t want us to know. Because like Ray Bradbury once wrote, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” 

If you’re interested in learning more, check out these resources:

Mexican Gothic Review

A User’s Guide to All the Banned Books in Texas

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian | Banned Book Project

 

Visit American Library Association – Banned Books to learn how to get involved in the cause!



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