Political opinions: “A good enough reason” to ban books?

In the children’s book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, the title character answers the question of the title with, “I see a red bird looking at me.”

For one member of the elected Texas Board of Education, the bird’s color could have been confirmation of her suspicion that the picture book promoted Communism.  But then again, Board member Terri Leo (R-Spring) didn’t actually read the book before suggesting that its author, Bill Martin, Jr., be removed from a third grade social studies curriculum‘s list of examples of writers and artists who are significant to the cultural heritage of communities. (The list including Martin, Jr. appears as item 15(B) on p.17.)

In an e-mail to fellow board member Pat Hardy (R-Weatherford), Leo suggested that Martin be removed from the list because he had also written Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation, which its publisher describes as “a daring attempt to reinvigorate the theoretical program of the radical left, anti-imperialist movement of the twenty-first century.” Leo apparently found Ethical Marxism by searching Martin’s name at Borders.com.

“She said that that was what he wrote, and I said: ‘ … It’s a good enough reason for me to get rid of someone,’ ” Hardy told the Ft. Worth Star Telegram. Throughout the revision process, Hardy has objected to the large number of individual names that the Board has added to the curriculum standards.

At the Jan. 14 meeting of the Board of Education, Hardy moved to remove the children’s book author from the list (in this video discussion, Hardy’s motion begins during minute 27.)  “Bill Martin is an author,” Hardy said in explaining her amendment. “He wrote some children’s books: Brown Bear, Black Bear, something like that. I haven’t got it on my reading list.  But he also has written some very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system, etcetera, etcetera, as adult books.”

But the books were written by different Bill Martins.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear
, published in 1964, was just one of 300 children’s books written by Bill Martin, Jr, who died in 2004 and spent the last 11 years of his life living near Commerce, Tex., working with the faculty at Texas A&M University-Commerce, which now houses his papers and sponsors the annual Bill Martin Jr Memorial Symposium for literacy teachers.

The author of Ethical Marxism, meanwhile, is another Bill Martin — no junior — who is alive and is a professor of philosophy at DePaul University.

Bill Martin, Jr. made numerous contributions to the Commerce, Tex. community, and it was reasonable to include him in the third grade curriculum as a writer who is significant to that community.

Leo said that she had meant the e-mail as just an “FYI,” and that she had not done any research on the issue. “Since I didn’t check it out, I wasn’t about to make the motion [to remove Martin, Jr. from the list],” she told the newspaper.

It’s scary that the people responsible for setting the curriculum in Texas schools couldn’t even do some basic research to figure out the difference between the two Bill Martins before making their decision.

And even if the books had been written by the same person, should that really matter?  Shouldn’t Brown Bear, Brown Bear — obviously as non-political as a book can get — be judged on its own merits, and its contribution to the curriculum, regardless of the political views of its author?

And, since Bill Martin, Jr. was included in the curriculum in the first place because of his contributions to the community of Commerce, Tex. — as celebrated by the local college — why should his political views matter at all?

Ideology should not be a reason to exclude books — or authors — from schools.  Students should be exposed a variety of political views and positions: even those of the “other” Bill Martin, once the students reach the reading level of Ethical Marxism.  They should not indoctrinated for or against a particular view: instead, students should be taught to think for themselves.

After spending two days slogging through the social studies standards for all grade levels, in the end the Board put off final approval of the standards to March.  So there’s still time for the Board to correct its impetuous decision.

Or at least to set another standard: for doing adequate research before making curriculum decisions.

by Eric Robinson, a guest blogger

About Blog of the National Coalition Against Censorship

Blogging Censorship is where National Coalition Against Censorship staff weigh in on the censorship issues on their minds.
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5 Responses to Political opinions: “A good enough reason” to ban books?

  1. Paul Cardwell says:

    The ringleader of this faction of the Texas State Board of Education is Don McLeroy. He is up for reelection this year. The Democrats aren’t even bothering to run anyone against him. Despite obstacles to even being permitted to be on the ballot, the Green Party is running an opponent – me.

    Since Texas is the largest textbook buyer in the U.S., this Board can essentially dictate the contents of textbooks for the entire country. As a result, all Americans have a stake in this election even though they have no vote.

    The Green Party does not take money from PACs or corporations, only real live human beings, and no more than $1,000 from any one of those. Please help.

    Paul Cardwell
    Bonham, Texas

  2. Dan Kleinman says:

    The Green Party!

    The candidate for the Green Party supports the blog post that says: “It’s scary that the people responsible for setting the curriculum in Texas schools couldn’t even do some basic research to figure out the difference between the two Bill Martins before making their decision.”

    Does anybody see the problem here? Green Party, environment. Green Party, environment. What does he say? “The ringleader of this faction of the Texas State Board of Education is Don McLeroy. He is up for reelection this year. The … Green Party is running an opponent – me. Since Texas is the largest textbook buyer in the U.S., this Board can essentially dictate the contents of textbooks for the entire country. As a result, all Americans have a stake in this election even though they have no vote.”

    Did you get that? The Green Party candidate calls another candidate a “ringleader” of a “faction” who will “dictate … for the entire country.”

    Green Party. Environment. Is there any group in the world that may be considered the ringleader of a faction that will dictate for the entire country and who “couldn’t even do some basic research to figure [things] out”? Green Party. Environment.

    Hint: http://www.climatedepot.com/

    Hey, Green Party candidate. If you are going to attack someone, make sure you do not attack on a basis similar to what your own party supports and that will have a far more devastating effect, and on the whole world, no less. When candidates obviously dissemble, they usual lose elections.

    Terry Leo made a mistake. You pounce on Don McLeroy as a result. Then you decry action substantially similar to that which your own party supports. Talk about political opportunism. Where’s Alan Dershowitz when you need him?

  3. Paul Cardwell says:

    Hunh? Green Party: grassroots democracy, economic justice, environmental responsibility, nonviolence. What does this have to do with environment only? Commerce Texas is in SBOE District 9, a district taffymandered from the Red River to two counties from the Gulf of Mexico. This also includes Madisonville; never mind Dershowitz, where is John Henry Faulk when we need him? McLeroy uses the same guilt by mistaken association as Leo does, for the same reason: communism equals socialism equals liberalism equals the Bill of Rights (they only recognize the last half of the second and first half of the tenth and none of the rest, except maybe the Free Exercise part of the first for themselves only). The Green Party supports the whole of the Constitution. Find out about the Green Party before you try to restrict it to your stereotype.

  4. Dan Kleinman says:

    I only “restricted it” based on the point I was making given the example I was using. I am aware the Green Party addresses numerous issues, not just the environment.

    Your effort to attack the messenger shows the messenger had a point you cannot refute.

  5. Joseph Lira says:

    I think freedom of speech is a fundamental right of societies, one that should be preserved and respected, I believe it is very important to respect everyones right to say what they want and books are an integral part of that.
    Good blog, I will tell my friends about it.

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