I have always admired literature’s ability to expand readers’ hearts and minds. When I began getting my teaching certification, I was consistently reminded that teachers play a major role in developing empathy, critical thinking and social and cultural awareness in children.
As a future English teacher, books are one of the most vital tools to teach students these concepts.
Recent actions in Texas, however, threaten to reshape what books teachers can utilize.
State Rep. Matt Krause launched an investigation Oct. 25 on what books Texas schools districts had. Roughly 850 books the Texas Education Agency looked into largely center around or are written by LGBTQ+ people or individuals of color. Though the inquiry itself is harmless, it serves as a potential prelude to banning these texts.
Parents fueled the inquiry across the state, raising concerns of potentially inappropriate content being made available to their children. Looking at the list, it seems Texas lawmakers’ definition of “inappropriate” is being stretched to encompass any text containing viewpoints that conflict with theirs.
Subjects like race, sexuality, abortion and inequality are now on the chopping block.
The recent focus on restricting these subjects suggests a push for less diverse texts in the classroom. The stories teachers are allowed to use are being further and further constrained, hindering our ability to effectively teach our students.
The U.S. population is incredibly diverse, and teachers should be able to teach with texts that highlight this diversity. Teachers cannot do this if we are only permitted to teach from one perspective.
The phrase “Ignorance is bliss” cannot be applied to our classrooms. We cannot treat topics like race, religion, gender, sexuality, discrimination and oppression as if they simply do not exist.
Doing so means teaching our students an incomplete picture, leaving them blind to the realities of the world. They can’t be expected to become competent global citizens if they know only one thread of a complex, interwoven world.
I know some parents may not want their children exposed to sensitive materials. I also understand some parents may not want their kids to read about perspectives, beliefs or experiences that conflict with what is taught at home. These are valid feelings for parents to have.
But parents and lawmakers need to understand that exposing children to diversity does not equate to indoctrination. Students can be introduced to complex, differing perspectives without being told to believe one over the other.
More people should acknowledge it is not inherently bad when a text makes readers feel uncomfortable. Though I understand why such texts may be off-putting, discomfort can be a good thing.
People grow when pushed beyond their comfort zones, and discussing how and why certain content may cause discomfort opens the door for beneficial life lessons in introspection and critical thinking.
Students need to learn to think for themselves. In school, the books we teach and the books made available to students play a monumental role in that.
Pushing a singular, homogenous narrative to all students, regardless of background or situation, could prove detrimental to their growth.
The concerned parents and lawmakers encouraging these inquiries and bans may believe they are doing what’s best for the children, but they need to be cautious in overstepping.
Otherwise, they may cause more harm than good.