January 28, 2022

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Lesson of the Day: ‘In Texas, a Battle Over What Can Be Taught, and What Books Can Be Read’

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Featured Article: “In Texas, a Battle Over What Can Be Taught, and What Books Can Be Read

A new Texas state law constricts teachers when it comes to discussing race and history. At the same time, a local politician is questioning why 850 titles are on library shelves. The result: “A lot of our teachers are petrified.”

In this lesson, you will first think about the books you have read in school. Then, you will learn about the battles in Texas, and about how teachers and librarians are reacting. Finally, you’ll explore the implications of these bans via either a “four corners” or a “big paper” discussion strategy.

Note: The featured article discusses critical race theory. If this topic is unfamiliar to you, or if you would like to learn more, visit this Lesson of the Day. You might also be interested in what teenagers had to say when we asked “What Is Your Reaction to Efforts to Limit Teaching on Race in Schools?

In your journal, or as a think-pair-share, reflect on the following question:

What book have you read in school, whether recently or when you were younger, that elicited a memorable emotional reaction in you? You might have felt joy, sorrow, anger or hope. You might have recognized yourself and your world in this book — or it might have introduced you to new ideas and worlds.

Describe the book, what you felt and why you think you felt that way.

Before you move on to the article, you might want to share your book and a sentence or two about the emotional reaction it caused and why. A teacher or a student can keep a running list of titles from everyone who shares.

Read or listen to the article, then answer the following questions:

1. The featured article starts with two stories: one about Carrie Damon, a librarian at a middle school, and the other about Matt Krause, a state representative of Texas. How do these two anecdotes set the reader up for the rest of the article?

2. What are some of the things that Texas legislators are trying to control in schools? What is your reaction to the laws that have been passed since June?

3. How do teachers and librarians in Texas feel about the recent laws and changes?

4. Why does the author of the article call this a “fight decades in the making”? Do you know whether any debates like these have occurred in your own school or school district?

5. Several of the 850 books that Mr. Krause included on his list are mentioned in the article. What is your reaction to the titles or subjects he chose to include? Have you read any of the books? Did any appear on the list that was compiled from your class in the Warm-Up activity? Do you agree with any of his selections? Why or why not?

6. Why is Emerson Sykes, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, against the bans? Do you agree or disagree with that perspective and reasoning? Why?

7. How is teaching about slavery, and specifically The New York Times’s 1619 Project, viewed by some lawmakers and critics?

8. The article ends with the words and stories of several teachers. Why are they frustrated? What, according to those teaching now, is confusing or unclear about these new policies? Which of the quotes in the last section of the article most resonate with you? Why?

Think back to the Warm-Up and look at the list of books you and your classmates compiled. How many of those might be on a list like the one that Mr. Krause created? Do you think the book you listed would be on it? Why or why not? (For reference, Book Riot has an analysis of the list that includes many of the titles.)

Now, participate in a discussion about some of the issues raised by this article. This can be done as either a “Four Corners” exercise, or you can do it as a “Big Paper” silent conversation in writing.

Either way, here are some statements — many adapted from the article — to which students can react:

  • Books or topics that make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish because of race or sex should not be taught in school.

  • Understanding our country’s history — including failures to live up to the promises of democracy — is an important part of education.

  • Teachers should explore contentious subjects in a manner free from political bias.

  • Lawmakers and politicians should be able to tell teachers which books, articles, videos and other materials they are allowed to use in their classrooms.

  • Schools should address white privilege and implicit bias.

  • It is the responsibility of schools to prepare students emotionally and intellectually with a diversity of voices, including some that challenge dominant historical and literary narratives.

After completing the activity, reflect on your experience with the exercise. Did any of your opinions change after hearing or reading your classmates’ perspectives? What are you left thinking about or wondering? What conclusions, if any, can you draw?

Additional Teaching and Learning Opportunities

  • Learn about students who fought a book ban. Read this article about two high school seniors in York County, Pa., who fought a ban that prohibited teachers from using books, articles and videos that featured diverse experiences. What actions did the students take to fight the ban? How were they ultimately successful? What is your reaction to their story?

Want more Lessons of the Day? You can find them all here.

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