Critical Race Theory in Schools: Don’t Ban Woke School Library Books, Balance Them


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I can’t think of a more encouraging development than the national parent movement pushing back awakening education. Nothing can beat organized parents to stop the erosion of fundamental American ideals like free speech or equality before the law. Fortunately, a record of early successes is rapidly building a larger movement to take over our schools.

Yet a rising crusade always risks going too far. Lately, some parents and officials fighting against enlightened education have considered removing books from the shelves of public-school libraries. This is not always inappropriate, even for strong advocates of free speech. Libraries serving K-12 students legitimately take criteria such as age adequacy and community standards for explicit sexual material. Because these lines are notoriously difficult to draw, the battles over sexually explicit school library books are sure to unfold for years to come.

However, bracketing the issue of age adequacy and explicit sexual content, I want to suggest that the best way to deal with awakened school library books is not to ban them, but to balance them. If Ibram X. Kendi is How to be anti-racist is on the shelf of your school library, don’t ban it. Ask your library to purchase a copy of John McWhorter Racism awakened: How a New Religion Betrayed Black America, rather. If your school library has a copy of Michelle Alexander The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of color blindness, ask him to order a copy of Heather MacDonald’s The war on the cops: How the new attack on law and order is making everyone less safe. Etc.

It is true that a K-12 public school is not a public university. Public universities stock their libraries with books representing several points of view. They also grant professors the freedom to conduct classes in their areas of expertise as they see fit. This is all based on the theory that students are old enough to choose their schools, courses, and then decide for themselves the truth or falsity of the different perspectives they encounter. Audience K-12 is different. Students are essentially a captive audience and are young enough to be influenced by indoctrinating teachers. This is why state laws prohibiting certain content in K-12 education are permitted to begin with.

However, preparing young people for adult citizenship exposes them to contrasting perspectives. The pernicious new educational practice of “civic action” allows biased teachers to drag entire classes into after-school political protests to earn course credit. I have argued that instead of forcing students to do unilateral political advocacy after school, schools should go back to the tradition of high school debate. This is where students learn to take both sides of current controversies, which builds respect for all. Ensuring that our K-12 libraries are stocked with books that offer arguments on both sides of our most controversial public policy issues is very much in the spirit of high school debate and entirely appropriate for K-12. .

Last weekend the New York Times makes a lot of one story outside of Texas. In October, ostensibly in response to new Texas law prohibiting teachers from defending critical race theory, a member of the Texas State House sent a letter listing about 850 books. The letter called on kindergarten to grade 12 schools to identify and examine the books to see if they contained “material that might cause students to feel discomfort, guilt, angst, or whatever else.” form of psychological distress due to their race or gender ”. Opponents of enlightened education should avoid this kind of overstepping.

The legislator’s request was not justified by the new law (which was based in part on model legislation that I wrote). First, Texas’ new civic education law does not prohibit education that makes students uncomfortable because of their race or gender. This would give any offended student a veto over the curriculum. Instead, the law prohibits teaching children that they should feel discomfort because of their race or gender, as CRT “whiteness” treatments often do, for example. Second, with one exception, Texas law does not prohibit the presentation of a particular concept. Instead, it prevents teachers from instill Ideas based on the CRT of collective racial guilt. In other words, ideas based on CRT can be discussed, as long as they are not taught as the truth. So, for example, a comparison and contrast of ideas based on Ibram X. Kendi’s CRT with John McWhorter’s critique of CRT would be nice. That is why it would make sense to have both books in the school library. (Texas law rightly prevents teachers from “instilling” the fundamental demands of Project 1619, but then goes too far, in my opinion, by prohibiting even discussion of Project 1619.)

In short, Texas’ new civic education law provides no basis for massive library book recalls. Even books that advocate the very CRT concepts prohibited by law can still be used, if presented with contrasting perspectives, rather than presented as true.

The scattered recalls of hundreds of library books, presumably under consideration for ban, are neither good policy nor good policy. Our awakened elites are all too eager to portray parents pushing aside awake excesses in our schools as intolerant book burners. Why not turn the tide by scanning school libraries for leftist advocacy books, then balancing them with a more conservative point of view? Preserve the leftist political books, then challenge your opponents to ban the new conservative books you ordered. I hope both sides are reluctant to ban. The end result would be school libraries filled from both perspectives – a big win, as far as I’m concerned.

There is no doubt that the children’s and young adult book markets are dominated by left-leaning entrances. There are, however, conservative alternatives. The Goldwater Institute recently hosted an event on a series of children’s books that fight against the awakened cultural tendency. I have also seen lists of conservative books for young adults. Some enterprising individuals and groups should make a list of conservative, unawakened, or anti-awake books for children and young adults. Parents and school libraries could work from these lists.

It is largely unexplored territory. Are most school libraries full of books like Kendi’s? I really do not know. If your school library isn’t particularly political, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest rushing to stock it with conservative-leaning politics books. On the flip side, if the civics teachers at your school are focused on the news and have filled their school library shelves with awakened leaflets, let the balancing begin.

Texas’ new civic education law states that civics educators who choose to discuss current controversial events should strive to do so from “diverse and conflicting” perspectives. This is not a mandate for school libraries, but it certainly provides a reason for school librarians to source competing public policy books. (And no, the provision in Texas law calling for a balanced exploration of current public policy debates does not mandate the teaching of Holocaust denial or flat Earthism.)

In short, it is legally unnecessary, fundamentally ill-advised and politically senseless to ban awake school library books. Putting aside the challenge of figuring out age-appropriate sexual content, don’t ban awake books, balance them out.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior researcher at the Center for Ethics and Public Policy.

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