In news reports and viral videos, school board members across Texas have been confronted by parents opposed to books and curriculum dealing with race and LGBTQ issues.
But according to a new Houston Chronicle analysis, it’s politicians – not parents – behind the push to ban certain books from schools.
Chronicle education reporter Hannah Dellinger, who co-authored the seven-month investigation on banned books, joined Texas Standard to share more. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Seven months ago, that was maybe right around the first time we started seeing these waves of stories coming from school board meetings, especially in North Texas, it seemed. But it was really sort of all over Texas, right?
Hannah Dellinger: Yes. And we actually started reporting on this issue in October. And in our region, we saw this issue come up in at Katy ISD, as well as Spring Branch ISD. And that kind of catapulted us into this project.
So how exactly did you approach this when it came to the investigation?
So we sent out Public Information Act requests for any documents related to reviewing books for appropriateness, books being formally challenged or being removed. And when the information started coming back from those requests, we saw clearly that most of the reviews were done in response to [Republican state Rep.] Matt Krause’s letter that he was sent to districts.
What seemed to inspire Matt Krause to send out this letter in the first place?
We still don’t know where this list came from. He hasn’t responded to requests for interviews from the Houston Chronicle, but in other interviews, he said that he just wanted to raise the consciousness of parents about what’s in schools and wanted to give schools an idea of what books they had in their libraries.
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Are you saying that the parents that are showing up at these meetings are not genuinely concerned about the content of these books? And we should talk about which books we’re specifically referring to.
This investigation isn’t to downplay the issue of parents getting involved in this; just, when it comes down to the books actually formally being reviewed, it’s been impacted more by politicians. But many conservative parents will say that any mention of sexuality or LGBTQ+ issues, or even the mention of a character within that community, is what they call sexual grooming – which, if you ask experts who try to prevent sexual violence, that’s not what sexual grooming is.
“Sexual grooming” is being used as a slur and a pejorative of late, and clearly with a political slant. But I want to understand: You found that the books that were being reviewed, scrutinized and banned seem to come from this list, correct?
Right. We found nearly 880 unique titles, and the books on Matt Krause’s list, there was 850 of them. And it really didn’t line up with the books on that list. There were some other ones also, but more than 1,300 of the books included a mention of an LGBTQ+ character or related issues, and around 600 of them included issues of race or had a main character that was a person of color.
Could you name some of these books, perhaps some of the more recognizable titles?
Sure. So the most reviewed book that we had was “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez, which is historical fiction based in Texas about an interracial relationship between two teens. And then the second most reviewed book that we found was “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews; it has a lot of descriptions of mental health issues, suicides, sexuality. And then”New Kid” by Jerry Craft, which is a children’s book that just kind of mentions microaggressions; it’s basically a book about a young Black child who is in a school that is predominantly white and who struggles and his experience in a school like that.
Did you talk with the school districts about the books that they have reviewed and some have banned, and what was their response?
So, for example, Katy ISD, quite a bit of books – they’ve reviewed 104 since 2018. And their response was that the books they removed were “pervasively vulgar.” But what we did find is that the responses weren’t always uniform. For example, a book that Katy ISD found “pervasively vulgar” was found to be appropriate in four other districts and remained for high school students.
Could you say a bit about the concerns that teachers, educators and others have had, should these books be banned or removed?
A lot of the teachers and librarians that we’ve spoken to have said that they’re getting personal attacks and threats for just simply trying to make books available to students if they choose to read them. Many of them cite studies that say that having books that represent diverse perspectives and backgrounds help engage students in learning and make them lifelong readers. In a time when we’re trying to regain all the learning loss since the start of the pandemic, teachers really are saying, ‘Why would we try to take resources away from students who want to read?’
I think that beyond the pedagogical, there has also been concern expressed by some that people of color, kids who are struggling, questioning their sexuality, this may enhance feelings of isolation.
Yeah, that’s definitely correct. All of the advocates that we’ve spoken to have said that this kind of tells those students that their experience not only doesn’t matter, it’s not allowed. A lot of the students who we have spoken to have said that it’s been very personally hurtful to be basically told that their life experience is invalidated.
Well, what then can be said about why we’re seeing this push now? What are you hearing on that front?
A lot of experts have told us that since the murder of George Floyd, this is kind of a push back to the movement to be more inclusive for people of color and to talk about issues such as systemic racism. And this is kind of like the backlash in the culture against that that movement.