Texas, known for its claims to being number one, leads the nation in an unexpected category: banned books.
In a list compiled by the literary nonprofit PEN America, Texas takes the unfortunate top spot, with Florida trailing closely behind in second place.
The Perpetual Battle Over Reading Material
Texas and Florida have long been engaged in a cultural rivalry. However, in the realm of book bans, Texas takes the lead, marking a concerning trend in the ongoing battle over what children can read and learn.
State Representative Jared Patterson, a Frisco Republican, has been at the forefront of efforts to remove what is considered "sexually explicit material" from school libraries, known as the READER Act.
While some politicians claim that pornographic material can be found on school library shelves across the state, librarians vehemently deny such accusations.
In April, PEN America undertook the daunting task of compiling a list of book bans in the United States. This globally recognized free speech advocacy group included books that had been "restricted or diminished, for either limited or indefinite periods of time." Some of these titles have since been reinstated following review processes.
In Texas alone, an astonishing 438 book-banning incidents took place between July and December of the previous year. Florida followed closely with 357 cases. Texas' banned books encompass a wide range of subjects, from issues related to race, gender, and sexuality to some rather surprising choices.
Notable titles like Stephen Hawking's "Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays" and even the Bible were banned in certain districts. The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien and works by renowned author Margaret Atwood, including "The Handmaid’s Tale," also found their way onto the banned list.
Frisco ISD, Patterson's hometown, achieved notoriety by topping both Texas and the nation with 315 book bans.
A Growing Fire
Since PEN America published its list, Katy ISD has further added to the growing pyre, removing at least 14 additional books from shelves. These include titles from beloved children's authors Eric Carle, Judy Blume, and Dr. Seuss, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.
The GOP's effective messaging has convinced many conservative parents that public schools are equivalent to smutty bookstores. When Governor Greg Abbott signed the READER Act into law in June, he pledged that it would prevent young Texans from accessing explicit literature.
"Some school libraries have books with sexually explicit and vulgar materials," Abbott stated. "I'm signing a law that gets that trash out of our schools."
Kasey Meehan, director of the Freedom to Read project at PEN America, refuted the notion of schools being filled with vulgar and obscene content. She emphasized that books are carefully selected for schools and that addressing challenging topics does not equate to obscenity.
However, there is growing concern that these terms are being conflated, resulting in the removal of various literary works and diverse perspectives from students' access.
In a separate report, the American Library Association revealed that Texas led the nation in attempts to restrict access to nearly 2,350 titles, with a total of 93 attempts made in the last year alone.