Probe into public school library books is narrow-minded

State Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) issued a dismal announcement last week that, on his own authority, he demands that public school districts across Texas confirm whether their libraries include any of some 850 book titles.

Krause, a conservative Republican, has announced his candidacy for his party’s nomination for Texas Attorney General (AG).  The Republican AG contest is highly competitive. Besides Krause, incumbent AG Ken Paxton, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman have announced their candidacies in the March 1, 2022 Republican primary election.

 Last week, as chair of the Texas House Committee on General Investigating, Krause issued a letter to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and school superintendents inquiring about how many copies of the 850 listed books each school has. The letter also asked how much money districts spent on the books.

The books that Krause listed address topics of human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, HIV or content that might make students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or other form of psychological distress, because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently sexist or oppressive,” Krause’s letter said.

The list of books attached to Krause’s letter fills sixteen pages.  Included in the list are “How To Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, “So You Want To Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo, “The Birds, the Bees and You and Me,” by Olivia Hinebaugh, “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron and “Between The World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  

Styron’s novel is about a slave rebellion that occurred in 1831; it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1968. Coates’ book examines the painful odyssey of African-American males in America. It won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2015.

Jennifer Mitchell, the governmental relations director for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, told The Washington Post that Krause’s effort to investigate books available in Texas public schools is an effort to signal “his ability to run to the right of Paxton” in next year’s GOP primary for Texas Attorney General.

“He’s jumping on the ‘critical race theory’ bandwagon,” Mitchell said.

Clearly, Krause’s broadside at public school library books is not a bipartisan inquiry by the Texas House Committee on General Investigating. Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas) is the committee’s vice chair.  The Post reported that Neave characterized Krause’s letter as a “PR stunt” for his campaign. “What we see Republicans trying to do here in Texas is really whitewash our history. In a time where Latinos, when communities of color in Texas fueled our explosive population growth as reflected in the census data, we need to be giving these kids historically accurate information,” Neave said.

Ovidia Molins, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, said Krause’s unilateral investigation is an “obvious attack on diversity.”

“Rep. Krause’s letter demanding that school superintendents provide him with lists of books dealing with certain subjects on their school bookshelves is disturbing and political overreach in the classroom,” Molina told the Post. “Nothing in state law, not even in H.B. 3979 or Senate Bill 3, gives a legislator the authority to conduct this type of witch hunt,” Molina told the Post.

Krause’s letter harkens back to the era of McCarthyism when certain works of literature and film were labeled as un-American. In the 1950s, U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) claimed that an untold number of Communists had infiltrated the U.S. State Department, other agencies of the federal government, colleges and universities, Hollywood and the press.

The bitter truth is that totalitarian regimes historically target works of art and literature as contrary to the public good and vilify authors and artists.

History, literature and art are often disturbing. Can anyone who has read Harper Lee’s great novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” not be disturbed by the saga of Tom Robinson, an honest Black man, whose prosecution and demise flow from villainous racial hatred?

If Rep. Krause needs a reference for a book that sears the soul, he need only immerse himself in the late Primo Levi’s “Survival In Auschwitz.”  Levi’s account of the decimation of tens of thousands of Jewish prisoners is heart-trending. The most valuable commodities in the concentration camp were droplets of gruel, a wooden spoon, a button and a needle and thread to mend threadbare garments.

Ambitious politicians like Rep. Krause, find the lure of higher office intoxicating, but pose a real and present danger to American freedom. One way to curry popular support is to rally voters against a bugaboo. That is what the Krause inquisition is about.

America’s history is replete with the senseless lynchings of Black men. And the South’s history also includes the manufactured prosecution of Leo Frank in 1915 for the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan. Frank was lynched by a howling Georgia mob in 1915, instigated by vile antisemitism fueled by Tom Watson, who was later elected to the United States Senate from Georgia.

The greater danger to public education in Texas is not from diverse titles on bookshelves, but from misplaced political will that denies the painful evolution of the American experience. 

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