Republican Texas lawmakers are launching an official inquiry into books about race and sexuality in public schools.
According to a letter first obtained by the Texas Tribune, state Rep. Matt Krause — who chairs the House Committee on General Investigations and is running for state Attorney General in the Nov. 8 election — asked Deputy Commissioner of School Programs Lily Laux to compile information on a list of 850 books in schools across Texas on Monday.
Citing his committee’s jurisdiction under state law, Rep. Krause asked Laux to have each school district in Texas identify how many of the 850 listed books they have, name the schools that own the books, and specify the “amount of funds spent” by each district “to acquire” them.
The list includes both fictional novels and non-fiction text books that mostly relate to themes of race and sexual identity.
Rep. Krause also asked that Texas schools compile a list of any books in their possesion related to such topics as sexual health or sexual identity, that might “make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.”
The location of those books, and the funds spent to obtain them, must be specified as well, Rep. Krause added.
“Your prompt attention to this request is appreciated, and I request a written response via email by November 12, 2021,” Rep. Krause wrote. “If you have any questions, please contact me or the Committee’s General Counsel, Darren Keyes.”
Critics Call Texas Lawmakers’ Inquiry ‘Witch Hunt’
Rep. Victoria Neave, the Democratic lawmaker who serves as the committee’s vice chair, reportedly called the letter a “politically motivated” stunt, noting Rep. Krause’s Attorney General run.
Others have echoed that sentiment. A University of Houston political science professor told the Tribune that Rep. Krause is “not well-known statewide, and so he needs to put down a pretty tall conservative flag to get noticed” in the crowded Republican field.
Rep. Neave also said that she first learned of the letter from an education department official, implying that Rep. Krause did not officially inform the full committee of his investigation.
Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina called the inquiry a “witch hunt.”
“Rep. Krause’s letter demanding that school superintendents provide him with lists of books dealing with certain subjects on their school bookshelves is disturbing and political overreach into the classroom,” the teachers’ union president said.
“This is an obvious attack on diversity and an attempt to score political points at the expense of our children’s education. What will Rep. Krause propose next? Burning books he and a handful of parents find objectionable?”
850 Books to be Investigated
The list of books Rep. Krause attached to his letter includes novels, academic textbooks, and at least one documentary film.
Many of the books deal directly with topics of racism, racial identity, or LGBTQ issues, whether through fiction or as explanatory, secondary sources.
Some are well-known and have been adapted into films or TV shows, including John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta, and a graphic novel version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Others simply include depictions of same-sex relationships or feature trans-identifying characters, like Leslie Connors’ A Home for Goddesses and Dogs, or Mark Oshiro’s Each of Us a Desert.
Some of the books appear not to have any relevance to issues of race or gender, such as Jesse Andrews’ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
Most confusingly, some of the listed books have been embraced by conservatives, or people otherwise critical of liberal attitudes on gender issues, including Eyes on Target : Inside stories from the Brotherhood of the U.S. Navy SEALs by Scott McEwen and Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity, and Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose.
Republican Texas lawmakers have not said how they arrived at this specific list. The list as a whole is not alphabetically ordered, but appears to be made from several smaller lists, each of which is alphabetized, suggesting that it’s a collation of several lists.
Texas Lawmakers Continue War on ‘Critical Race Theory’
The episode represents a new chapter in the continuing effort by Texas lawmakers to remake state education policy.
In May, the state legislature passed a bill aimed at “critical race theory” — a nebulous term that the law does not define — which was sponsored by Rep. Krause and prohibits educators from teaching the concept that “an individual, by virtue of the [their] race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
Rep. Krause used the same language in his letter to the Texas Education Agency — writing that any books that “might […] convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” must be catalogued and listed for his committee.
Neither Krause nor the bill he sponsored specify who determines what lessons or what books cross that threshold. In absence of direction, local school districts are making those determinations themselves.
Earlier this month, Carol Independent School District administrators came under fire for suggesting that teachers offer “opposing views” when teaching Holocaust literature.