Banning books

The always controversial Texas State Board of Education added to its tragicomic history with a confusion over Martins:

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Why Were You Banned?

Bill Martin is a philosophy professor at DePaul University who has written a book called Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation.

Bill Martin Jr., who died in 2004, was a children’s author who wrote Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? The men are not related.

Last week, the two Martins were briefly fused into one persona by Pat Hardy, a member of the Texas State Board of Education, who moved that Bill Martin be removed from a suggested revision of the state’s third-grade social-studies curriculum. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram quoted Ms. Hardy as saying that his books for adults contain “very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system.” –Don Troop

The  issue might be simply amusing, except that the Texas State Board of Education decides what will be taught in Texas public schools. Because the Texas market drives what publishers sell in other states, it plays an extraordinary role in defining American public education.

Recently, the Board has considered reviving the reputation of Senator Joseph McCarthy, to portray him as an American hero. They also debate the Biblical underpinnings of the nation’s founding, the superiority of America, and its divine ordination.

Pat Hardy, is from my hometown of Fort Worth. Unlike many others on the Board, she’s actually an educator. Although she’s a conservative Republican, she’s been attacked in elections to the Board by social conservative groups, who criticize her insufficient support of creation science and lack of solidarity with the social conservative bloc on the board.

Much of the commentary on this incident has focused on its silliness, on the apparent confusion of such different authors and books. But for me, it raises some important questions about the Board, and by extension, American education:

  • What if Bill Martin Jr. (the children’s book author) had written a book on ethics? Would that be a bad thing? Would that justify banning his beloved book for children?
  • Must we agree with Bill Martin (the philosopher) about vegetarianism and animal rights in order to read his book? Is it wrong to read a book that critiques and extends Marxism?
  • Should the role of the Board, or the role for any of us as educators and citizens, be to weed out books with ideas we don’t accept (or perhaps, understand)?
  • Do we want students to grow up unquestioning, and safe from bad ideas only when we diligently purge them from their world?
  • Might we do better to “teach the controversy,” as Gerald Graff says, to open up the world of books, ideas, and learning, rather than to try to shut it down?

One thought on “Banning books

  1. Dear Chip — I like your armadillo — and I like your blog. At your suggestion, I’m trying a WordPress blog with my undergraduate course on narrative this year. Just getting started. You could look for it under susangdavis ! All best — SD


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