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Conservative websites fuel book bans in Texas and across the country

Book bans are not a new phenomenon in the United States, but recent efforts to remove books from schools in Texas and across the country have made an aggressive comeback in the past year. The American Library Association said it received an “unprecedented” 330 reports of book challenges in the fall, a slight increase from similar times in recent years.

The current movement has been largely driven by conservative parents, activists and politicians campaigning against critical race theory, an academic concept used to explore the role of race in society. To date, more than half of reading challenges are initiated by parents, compared to 1% of students, reports the ALA.

In Texas last week, two parents from the McKinney Independent School District challenged more books in a single day than the previous record number of books challenged in an entire year.

The parents asked the district to remove 282 books with allegedly obscene sexual content from its libraries after claiming they had been given the “unpleasant task” of reading each of the books. The 282 works also appear on a list of 850 titles compiled by Republican state lawmaker Matt Krause as part of an investigation launched in October into books he says could make students feel bad. easy.

Krause’s list, which targets many texts with LGTBQ themes, has successfully caused several large-scale book deletions in Texas schools. The books on the list often coincide with contested titles in other states. This is largely due to the concerted efforts of right-wing organizations like Moms for Liberty, No Left Turn in Education, and Texans Wake Up to distribute online book listings of titles they have deemed inappropriate.

From these lists, parents and activists find the most meaningful passages and recite them at out-of-context school board meetings, asking schools if the books are available for their children.

Among the frequently listed titles is the 2015 young adult novel “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez. The book, described as a fictional reimagining of the 1937 New London explosion that killed more than 295 people “sets the backdrop for a gripping novel about segregation, love, family and the forces that destroy people,” was contested in at least eight districts. in Texas, and at least eight different states.

The conservative Texans Wake Up website, which dubbed Pérez’s book “pervasively vulgar,” contains passages from the book, a list of secular words that may be in it (including a word count for each), and districts Texas schoolchildren who have the book stored in their libraries. The guide is downloadable for use at school board meetings.

A parent from the Austin-based Lake Travis Independent School District went viral after reciting the same passages featured on the website during a school board meeting as she demanded the book be removed from college shelves. The next day, the book was removed from libraries for review.

No Left Turn in Education, another group leading the charge, has circulated a list of more than 75 books which it says “spread radical and racist ideologies to students”. Almost every book featured deals with black or LGBTQ stories, including George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” which has been targeted for removal in at least 14 states. The list also includes classics like “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.

Parents Defending Education, which promotes No Left Turn in Education, also has its own list of books, many of which have been frequently targeted in Texas, such as Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy” and Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir.” Gov. Greg Abbott referenced this latest novel when introducing his Parental Bill of Rights that would ban alleged “pornographic” material from school libraries.

In January, The Guardian reported that most of these groups were also linked to right-wing politicians and wealthy Republican donors. Parents Defending Education president Nicole Neilly was previously executive director of the conservative organization Independent Women’s Forum. Neilly also worked at the Cato Institute, a right-wing think tank co-founded by Republican mega-donor Charles Koch, according to The Guardian.

“We have noted that there are a number of groups like Moms for Liberty, Parents Defending Education, No Left Turn in Education who have particular opinions about what is appropriate for young people, and they are trying to implement their agenda — especially in schools, but also to bring their concerns to public libraries,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told The Guardian.

However, these large-scale book banning efforts have not gone unchallenged. This week, Katy ISD students, who made national headlines for several book challenges this school year, distributed hundreds of copies of banned books that discuss race and LGBTQ experiences to their peers after the district removed some library books and blocked some websites. accessible on campus, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Texas librarians launched the #FReadom Fighters organization shortly after Krause’s book list was released. The group has since provided resources for librarians, teachers, or authors facing book-related challenges. A CBS News poll from February shows that 80% of Americans don’t think books should be banned from schools for discussing race and criticizing US history, for depicting slavery in the past or more broadly for political ideas with which they do not agree.