Texas Officially Bans So-Called “Sexually Explicit” Books; Demands Book Ratings from Vendors

The same day Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed a ban on book bans in public libraries and schools into effect this week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that bans “sexually explicit” books from schools.

House Bill 900, the “parent empowerment” bill, has spent the legislative season picking up ground in Texas’s state legislature. The now-codified READER Act — Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources Act — the law means that school librarians have to follow new standards when it comes to purchasing materials for their library.

The new READER Act has two main components, both of which must be in place and ready to go January 1, 2024:

  • The Texas State Library and Archives Commission will now be creating a manual to outline materials standards, and it will need to be approved by the State Board of Education. While the Texas State Library and Archives Commission is comprised primarily of library and information professionals, their need to report to the State Board of Education is of significant concern. The Board is appointed by the governor, giving the governor influence in whether or not the manual defines appropriate and inappropriate materials to his liking.
  • The READER Act also mandates that book vendors rate the content of the books they sell and compile it into a document for review by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). TEA then has the ability to create a “do not buy” list from vendors who do not comply or meet the standards outlined by the READER Act. TEA has been complicit and encouraging of book bans across the state by “encouraging” parents to give input into what books they believe are not appropriate for students to access. TEA’s guidelines for materials put school board members in charge of deciding collections, not the librarians or educators in the schools. The Commissioner of Education is appointed by the governor, giving the governor powerful influence in the TEA.

In effect, Governor Greg Abbott just gave himself license to decide which books can be purchased for collections and from whom.

Schools will be responsible for biannual audits of their materials and submit their reports to the state starting in 2025.

There are, of course, not explanations for what counts for “sexually explicit,” or are there guidelines for what materials would or would not be deemed appropriate for minors. This is being left up to the state agencies above to figure out, and indeed, take input from their boss about.

Let’s not mince words here: this is about Greg Abbott, Jared Patterson, Matt Krause, and other right-wing conservatives determining the lessons allowed in public education and pulling anything that does not align with their repressive, cishet, white male worldview.

The READER Act is a work from Representative Jared Patterson and Senator Angela Paxton. Patterson has been notorious pro-censorship, helped his campaign to ban books from schools and libraries with a letter to school superintendents signed by dozens of other state Republican lawmakers. The letter asked them not to purchase any material from vendors who sell Gender Queer, which would in effect make purchasing any book in the state impossible.

The broader HB 900 should also be of concern to anyone who cares about intellectual freedom and public education. The new law will give parents significantly more input in the course materials and lessons given in K-12 schools and offer grant programs for parents who wish to supplement their child’s educational needs.

More is to come from Abbott as this legislative session wraps up, including his plans to open up state educatioaal funding to a voucher program. This would allow anyone to send their children to private schools.

Indeed, the same kind of private schools offering christofascist education in the vein of the Institute of Biblical Life Principles. Public funds would further fuel these schools of indoctrination as parents drop complaints in the name of “parental rights” at schools then scoop up taxpayer money to send their kids to schools that teach the lies spin slant “facts” they want their children to learn.

A 2023 survey showed Texas to be the 10th least educated in the country, with one of the smallest percentages of high school diploma holders. It ranks #48 in the country in literacy rates. It ranks below the U.S. average for reading scores of students in both 4th and 8th grade.

Perhaps it’s not an issue of so-called “sexually explicit” books in schools. Nor, perhaps, is it an issue of “parental rights” being squashed by schools. Perhaps it’s an issue of a population that needs support, time, effort, and funding put into measures such as HB 900 poured into efforts to help the state’s increasing minority population gain access to quality education, textbooks, and resources.

But that might create a literate voting populace.

Data from March 2023 show Texas also has the second highest number of school shootings.

It is worth emphasizing here again that the citizens of Texas did not create this problem, nor is it a matter of “you get what you vote for.” Suggesting that is a slap in the face of every resident of the state who has had their voices squashed and gerrymandered over the course of decades. Very few contests are contested across the state thanks to redistricting which ensures that extremist right politicians retain their power and can continue dismantling the support and care needed across the country’s second largest state.

Abbott has created power in his image and has now entrenched himself so deep that he gets to choose whether or not students across the state even have access to a book that might show them who they are or what they look like.

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