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Book Bans Are Not The Solution

Updated: Jun 4

I witnessed pain during the COVID-19 pandemic. I taught students who were busy caretaking dying parents, and I communicated daily with parents petrified at this force out of our control crippling our K-12 schools. Throwing myself into my work granted me agency at addressing the problems as I saw them, but all this underscored an underlying trauma response: We cannot allow this to happen again.


In response to the pandemic, many parents have sought that same agency at their children’s schools. Having witnessed the pandemic’s impact on their children’s mental health, learning levels, and attention spans, parents have gotten more involved.


Unfortunately, political forces have convinced certain parents that organizing on issues such as banning library books and "critical race theory," however that term is now defined, are meaningful avenues of improving their children’s schools. In some cases, these organizers are not parents; they present as well-meaning community leaders whose stake in local schools is their tax money, which they believe should not subsidize such indecency.


Thomas Ray Garcia speaking
Speaking at a public event in June 2023

I recognize these political forces are not entirely sincere; any organizing effort predicated on fear and anger is often not. Their ulterior motive of building electoral power by pitting parents against educators and librarians is not lost on me, a former candidate for the Texas Board of Education. However, I believe these political forces have gained considerable traction in their efforts because they have manipulated sincere people into believing children are being indoctrinated at our local schools.


Book banning strikes me as a cynical and short-lived solution to the collective trauma inflicted by the pandemic: Removing library books grants a sense of power and control. It affirms the belief that students need “protection” from certain ideas and topics. It establishes blanket authority based not on logic or rationale, but on arbitrary morality. It grants the illusion that parents and community leaders are improving on systems that failed them and their children during the pandemic.


Moreover, banning books and changing curricula are tangible solutions. You can visually see books on shelves and in students’ hands during class, and addressing these “visible forces” of corruption seem feasible to some and politically expedient to others. The more pervasive challenges of mental health and learning loss remain “invisible forces” that, frankly, many of us still do not know how to address meaningfully.

Thomas Ray Garcia sitting
Participating in a Chamber of Commerce discussion in February 2023

At best, book bans distract our collective attention away from these serious challenges in K-12 education. At worst, we are wasting our time, energy, and money on the non-issue of battling against “corrupting ideas” in library books because we do not know how else to heal the societal ills inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic.


That is why I stand firmly against political groups like Citizens Defending Freedom and Remnant Alliance, which have tapped local activists to demand the removal of over 670 books in Rio Grande Valley schools. Spearheaded by the pastor of City Church in Harlingen, these efforts to “protect our children” are misguided at best and destructive at worst.


Instead of demanding the removal of hundreds of books to school district officials, I advise concerned citizens to read the Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s Mandatory Collection Development Standards and this accompanying summary of key topics:


Summary-Mandatory-Collection-Development-Standards-webinar-02202024
.pdf
Download PDF • 83KB

Following the implementation of HB 900, school district librarians — certified and qualified individuals — have been tasked with ensuring compliance with state law. Even before HB 900, school boards have established policies for reviewing and removing library books, and library services personnel have followed these protocols in the best interests of their students.


Thomas Ray Garcia sitting down
Meeting readers after a book presentation in February 2024.

Unfortunately, reading out-of-context passages during school board meetings has become par-the-course for activists pressuring school board members to kowtow to book bans. I advise school board members to resist reacting impulsively to these public coercion attempts, especially when our primary focus should be on closing funding gaps and not on political theater.


Moreover, I encourage school board members to consult with their school librarians and legal professionals on compliance with HB 900, which most activists simply do not do, before remarking publicly or taking action on any books.


I also advise school district superintendents against posing for photographs with groups aiming to ban books. More often than not, these groups are connected to a right-wing organization. Superintendents should strive against partisanship in their decision-making and refuse to endorse organized political activity.


Parents whose children attend local schools have every right to express concerns over library books purchased with taxpayer money, as they always have. But the voices of a vocal minority should not intimidate school districts into going beyond the compliance standards set forth in HB 900.


Moreover, any efforts to ban books that are spearheaded by political advocacy organizations, especially those operating outside the region, should not be given serious consideration.


Years after the school shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still recovering from a collective sense of helplessness and despair. We know public schools are struggling financially. We know families are hurting economically. We know children are suffering mentally. What can we do, really, to change our lives for the better?


The antidote to these feelings, and to the political forces that take advantage of them, begins with proactive solutions. First, we must identify issues impacting local schools we can organize on. In the process, we must build diverse coalitions of students, parents, school employees, and community leaders. By addressing these issues school by school, we can begin seeing incremental progress on real problems impacting our communities.


On the issue of books, a few proactive solutions that could potentially unite disparate coalitions: engaging more families in school districts’ parent engagement programs, empowering parents by forming task forces on literacy programs and initiatives for children, educating the public on the parameters of HB 900 and other education bills, partnering with local authors who write about culture on literacy programming, and hosting public advocacy events on the cultural value of books in dispute (e.g. The House on Mango Street).


Certain political forces would rather divide us on removing books from library shelves rather than unite us on common-sense issues that impact our day-to-day lives. These issues might be harder to solve than banning books we feel are indecent, but we must not delude ourselves into believing these books are causing the harm currently afflicting our local schools.


For those inclined to continue operating on the pandemic mantra, “We cannot allow this to happen again,” required reading of key issues is a good start to orient ourselves on the real work ahead of us.



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