News Column

Texas Schools Ban 13 Books; Lowest in Decades

Sept. 28, 2012

Maggie Galehouse

texas

Sept. 27--Thirteen.

That's the number of books banned in Texas public schools during the 2011-12 school year, says a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

It's the lowest number in a decade.

"I think there's more awareness on the part of librarians and school administrators about how to handle complaints from parents," says Terri Burke, executive director of ACLU Texas. "You'll always have folks who want to ban books (that are) contrary to their personal beliefs, but I think administrators are learning how to engage parents in the process."

The ACLU report is pegged to Banned Books Week (Sept. 30-Oct. 6), launched by the American Library Association in 1982 to celebrate the freedom to read.

Most books land on the banned list because of sex, profanity, nudity, violence, religion, race and/or politics. Asking parents to sit down and read the titles that concern them before making official complaints in writing has helped streamline complaints and bring the number of banned books down, Burke says.

Some titles on this year's list were banned by elementary schools because the content was deemed too mature for young students. In some cases, administrators recommended the books be taught in upper grades in the same district.

Five books were banned from middle and high schools:

--"Num8ers" by Rachel Ward was banned from Spring Branch Middle School because of profanity. Ward's book is about a girl who is able to intuit the exact date people are going to die.

--"Dash and Lily's Book of Dares" by Rachel Cohn was banned from the New Caney ISD sixth-grade campus for profanity and sexual content or nudity. Cohn's novel is a love story that begins as a list of dares in a notebook.

--"Love and Other Four Letter Words" by Carolyn Mackler was banned from middle and high schools in San Antonio's Northside ISD for sexual content and nudity. The story focuses on a teenage girl who must move to Manhattan after her parents split.

--"Dark Rivers of the Heart" by Dean Koontz was banned by Mae Luster Stephens Junior High in Linden for profanity. The novel follows a man on the run with a mysterious woman.

--"When Is It Right to Die?" by Joni Eareckson was banned at Travis Middle School in Port Lavaca for offending religious beliefs. Eareckson's book discusses suicide and euthanasia.

Burke believes parents should have a say in which books their children read.

"But in an ideal world," she says, "parents would monitor kids' reading and it wouldn't have to come to banning."

Occasionally, adults are denied access to certain titles as well. Earlier this year, a handful of area public libraries chose not to carry E.L. James' sexually explicit "Fifty Shades of Grey." A Brazoria County librarian said the quality of writing didn't meet the library's standards, and a library spokeswoman in Fort Bend County said the book didn't seem to be popular enough there to add it to the library's collection.

And when books are banned or restricted in other states, Texas might feel the aftershock.

Last year, Tucson, Ariz., schools started dismantling a popular Mexican-American studies program and removing Hispanic history books from classrooms. Two of those restricted books were published by Houston-based Arte Publico Press, the largest publisher of contemporary U.S. Latino literature in the country.

Tony Diaz, founder of local nonprofit Nuestra Palabra and a Houston Community College professor, led a caravan of writers and activists in April to Tucson to bring copies of the prohibited books back to Arizona.

Since then, Diaz and his Librotraficante (book-trafficker) movement have gained followers across the country.

"I'll be in Las Vegas during Banned Books Week, collecting donations of banned books for underground libraries," Diaz says.



Source: (c)2012 Houston Chronicle Distributed by MCT Information Services


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