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EDITORIAL: School book debates best left to locals, not legislators

EDITORIAL: School book debates best left to locals, not legislators

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Republican state Rep. Matt Krause’s formal Oct. 25 letter initiating a statewide inquiry into what books regarding race or sexuality sit on school library shelves and whether they “make students feel discomfort” has prompted some Texans to panic over whether this action paves the way for good, old-fashioned book burnings. Probably not, but who knows anymore? Let pause, however, to consider some of the dynamics in play.

First, let’s stamp Krause’s inquiry as what it is — a campaign stunt concocted by a guy with little to no statewide name recognition who’s running against three heavyweights in the fast-approaching Republican primary election for state attorney general. If Krause’s inquiry was serious, he would have made such a move in concert with other members of the Texas House Committee on General Investigating that he chairs. He didn’t.

Many schools have been dismissive of the request because they see Krause’s move for what it is. To quote Waco ISD chief of staff Kyle DeBeer: “At a time when schools are focused on keeping students and employees safe in the midst of a global pandemic and addressing the learning gaps that developed over the last two years, this sort of empty political grandstanding, which will divert time and energy away from the real work, is incredibly frustrating.” Well put.

Second, the Texas Legislature has already had two big bites at the apple on matters of race and schools. In recent months, lawmakers (including our own Republican state Reps. Charles “Doc” Anderson and Kyle Kacal as well as Republican state Sen. Brian Birdwell) have passed two bills mandating that, among other things, teachers discussing controversial subjects “explore such issues from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”

That approach can be explosive in execution, whether it’s the Robinson ISD teacher who asked a Black student to stand on a desk during a lesson on the U.S. slave trade to better illustrate a human auction or the Carroll ISD administrator who, confused by House Bill 3979’s ambiguity, pressed stunned teachers to present an “opposing” perspective on the Holocaust — a policy of genocide pursued by Nazi Germany that claimed the lives of some 6 million European Jews.

Such matters are best left to parents, district educators and local school boards to discuss in open forum, then refine for implementation in the classroom. Schools should work closely with the Texas Education Agency, which has a far better grasp of the matters teachers face than legislators do. In a society brimming with hostile cross-currents over everything from “critical race theory” to “woke racism,” legislators and Gov. Greg Abbott should back off and let matters cool rather than aggravate racial tensions further for cheap political gain.

One final point: Many books about our past may well bring discomfort or anguish to students and their parents and teachers. Often enough, that’s why we want them to know about such profound truths — to ensure they don’t falter as our forefathers did and even as we have.

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