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